(CN) — In a heated runoff election Tuesday, Republican voters in Mississippi will decide between a former state supreme court justice and the lieutenant governor, who has billed himself as “the one true conservative” in the race to determine who will take on Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood in November.
Republican primary voters in the solidly red state will also choose nominees for attorney general, with state Treasurer Lynn Fitch trying to expand her lead in the Aug. 6 voting over Andy Taggart.
Lieutenant Governor Tate Reeves almost clinched the party’s nomination three weeks ago, coming 1 percentage point short of the 50% needed to prevail in a three-person race that included former state Supreme Court Justice Bill Waller Jr., who garnered 33 percent.
Both gubernatorial candidates spent the campaign’s final hours meeting with voters and pushing get-out-the vote efforts. They have differed on state spending, Medicaid expansion and infrastructure.
Barred from re-election because of term limits, Republican Gov. Phil Bryant threw his support in February to Reeves, 45, a former state treasurer who has served two terms as lieutenant governor. Reeves has touted the accomplishments of the Bryant administration on the campaign trail and has outspent his opponent, according to campaign reports filed Aug. 20 with the Mississippi Secretary of State’s office.
“We’re feeling confident that Mississippi Republican primary voters are firmly behind the conservative,” a spokesperson for Reeve said Tuesday morning. “It’s up to the voters now, but hundreds of volunteers have put in thousands of hours of work to ensure Mississippi has a conservative governor. We think their work is going to pay off.”
Waller, 67, who served as a commander in the Mississippi Army National Guard, spent more than two decades on the state supreme court, including 10 years as chief justice. His father, a Democrat, served one term as governor in the 1970s. Waller has proposed an expansion to Medicaid and a tax increase on gasoline to fund infrastructure improvements, a contrast to Reeves approach to the budget.
“We’re confident that the people are going to vote for change,” Waller told reporters on Monday in Desoto County.
The nominee will face Hood, the state’s four-term attorney general and the only Democratic statewide officeholder, in the Nov. 5 general election. No Democrat has been elected governor in Mississippi Ronnie Musgrove in 2000.
Mississippi’s election is one of three governors races this year. Louisiana and Kentucky also will vote this year to decide who will lead their state for the next term.