Mississippi Voters Head to Polls to Narrow Governor Race

(CN) – Phil Bryant, a Republican, is finishing up his second and last term as Mississippi’s governor. Barred from re-election because of term limits, he has turned to endorsements to continue his legacy.

The state flag of Mississippi flies at the Governor’s Mansion in Jackson, Miss., on June 23, 2015. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis, File)

In late February, Bryant announced his pick for who he hopes will next occupy the white, Greek revival mansion in downtown Jackson. Speaking with the website Y’all Politics, Bryant said his lieutenant governor, Tate Reeves, would perform the job with excellence.

“If I cannot be loyal to him as well as he has been loyal to me, then we are on the wrong path,” Bryant said in a video created by the website.

But despite the endorsement by a fairly popular Republican governor in a red state, and having spent $1 million in the primary contest with $4.3 million still on hand, Reeve’s position does not automatically make him the heir apparent.

On Tuesday, Republican voters head to voting precincts across the state to determine the outcome of a three-way race between Reeves, a former Mississippi Supreme Court justice and a freshman state representative.

Even while sights are being set on 2020, with Democratic candidates attempting to elbow their way onto presidential debate stages, three states will hold gubernatorial races this November ahead of next year’s big election.

Besides Mississippi, governor mansions in Kentucky and Louisiana are in play this year, teasing out voters in those states for one more nationally significant race before the next presidential election.

Bryant, continuing to speak with Y’all Politics, said the significance of the Mississippi gubernatorial race is the position’s appointment powers. A governor, he said, makes about 350 appointments and he added four Mississippi Supreme Court justices, for instance.

As for Reeves, he’s running on a platform promising to manage Mississippi’s budget with a firm hand, as a “watchdog for the taxpayers,” according to his campaign website. He points to his background in the banking sector and trumpets a 2016 tax break that he helped propose.

Also vying for the GOP nomination is state lawmaker Robert Foster, who gained some attention earlier in the summer for refusing to have a female journalist follow him around, citing the so-called Billy Graham rule, which is named after the evangelical preacher and discourages men from meeting alone with women.

On his campaign website, Foster cites his experience running an agritourism farm. The one-term state representative describes himself as an outsider and someone who will help the state’s businesses, pointing to overregulation and excessive taxation.

Standing apart from the two other Republican gubernatorial candidates is Bill Waller Jr., a former justice on the Mississippi Supreme Court who touts several initiatives he carried out on the high court, including expanding electronic recordkeeping and reducing lawsuit abuse.

In contrast to his two opponents’ frugality, Waller advocates for some state expenditures: increasing teacher pay in the state to foster retention and improving the state’s roads and bridges.

Waller is not the only candidate to tout former judicial experience in his run for the governor’s mansion.

In the Democratic primary, Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood points to his experience bringing litigation against opioid manufacturers last December and prosecuting a man associated with the “Mississippi Burning” murders, the Ku Klux Klan-involved killings of three civil rights workers registering blacks to vote in1964.

Among his policy proposals, Hood suggests expanding Medicaid, making community college free across the state and placing the correspondence of Mississippi legislators and officials under the purview of the state’s open records law.

Hood spent $1 million leading up to the primary and he had $900,000 on hand at the end of July, per a report filed with the Mississippi Secretary of State’s office. It is the most cash any of the eight Democratic candidates running for governor has raised so far in the race.

Hood’s closest competitors are Robert Shuler Smith, a district attorney, and Velesha Williams, an Army veteran who later built a career at Jackson State University.

The candidates’ campaigns did not immediately return requests for comment.

If no candidate on the Democratic or Republican sides gets more than 50% of the vote, a runoff will be held on Aug. 27. The general election is Nov. 5.

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