Mississippi GOP Race for Governor Heads to Runoff

(CN) – Mississippi Lieutenant Governor Tate Reeves billed himself as “the one true conservative” in the state’s gubernatorial race, but he did not garner enough votes in Tuesday’s Republican primary to stop a runoff election.

Republican Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves flanked by wife, Elee Reeves, congratulates his supporters during an appearance at his election watch party in Flowood, Miss., on Tuesday. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

On Aug. 27, Republican voters in Mississippi will once again head to the polls to determine the race between Reeves and Bill Waller Jr., a former Mississippi Supreme Court chief justice, for the party’s nomination to the governor’s mansion that will be left empty by outgoing Republican Governor Phil Bryant.

Early Wednesday morning, it was announced that Reeves did not have enough votes to cross over the 50% mark, which would have made him the outright winner in the contested, three-way GOP primary.

Reeves was almost there with 48.64% of the vote and nearly 90% of precincts reporting, according to Decision Desk HQ.

Speaking to his supporters after Tuesday’s primary, Reeves said, “I can tell you tonight that I am going to be the Republican nominee for governor of Mississippi. And I can tell you tonight — we are going to beat Jim Hood in November.”

The Democratic primary, on the other hand, neatly concluded with Jim Hood, the state’s attorney general, coasting past a field of seven other candidates to win with nearly 70% of the vote.

Hood’s policy planks include rooting out corruption in the legislature and slicing and dicing taxes on groceries.

Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood talks to gathered supporters in Jackson, Miss., after winning the party’s gubernatorial primary on Tuesday. (AP Photo/Charles A. Smith)

“We can win this,” Hood told supporters Tuesday evening. “We can do this race. Onward to November!”

After eight years in office, Governor Bryant is prohibited by state law from seeking another term. On Thursday, speaking before a crowd at the Neshoba County Fair, Bryant touted his accomplishments during his tenure as governor: doubling the number of adoptions, reducing the number of government employees by 4,700, and cutting taxes 52 times.

“I’m going to slide into home. I’m going to run through the tape,” Bryan said. “We’re going to finish strong in this administration. We’re going to pass the torch to a new generation of leadership.”

Bryant endorsed his lieutenant governor in February, and Reeves has campaigned on the accomplishments of the Bryant administration, including a tax cut for Christmas trees.

Reeves said he has endorsements from much of the conservative leadership in the state, and he has the most funding too, according to his campaign’s reports to the Mississippi Secretary of State’s office.

But two Republican challengers saw an opportunity to nab the nomination.

“Shouldn’t you like your candidate for governor? Now you can!” proclaims one Facebook ad for Waller’s campaign.

Waller, the son of one of Mississippi’s past governors, is proposing to expand Medicaid and increase the tax on gasoline to fund infrastructure improvements, a contrast to his opponent’s approach to the state’s budget.

Farmer and freshman state representative Robert Foster told potential voters in a 30-second spot, “Like President Trump, I’m not a career politician or the ‘next guy in line.’”

As of early Wednesday morning, Waller had 33% of the vote, while Foster lagged at 18%.

The Mississippi Secretary of State’s office said the primary elections Tuesday went generally smooth, with short and steady lines and few reported problems.

Mississippi’s gubernatorial election is one of three governors’ races in 2019. Louisiana and Kentucky will also vote this year to decide who will lead their state for the next term.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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