By Hastings Wyman –
When Mississippians go to the polls this November to elect all of their state officials, there is only one statewide office that is likely to be competitive, and it is not the governor’s race. State Attorney General Jim Hood (D), the only Democrat elected statewide in Mississippi, has a strong base of support in both parties. “His numbers are phenomenal,” says one longtime observer of Magnolia State politics. Nevertheless, Mike Hurst, a former Assistant District Attorney in the criminal division for Mississippi’s Southern District, filed against Hood. Hurst may also benefit from having worked on the staff of former US Rep. Chip Pickering (R). Hurst, who has prosecuted several high profile corruption cases, will criticize Hood for waging an insufficient fight against corruption in the state. “It has the potential to be a pretty good race,” says a knowledgeable Jackson insider, who notes the overall weakness of the Democratic slate is likely to work against Hood.
In the contest for governor, which by all rights should get top billing, incumbent Phil Bryant (R) looks like a shoo-in. He had $2.4 million in his war chest at the end of 2014. Bryant has a weak primary opponent in political unknown Mitch Young, who has no visibility or built-in base. Three Democrats are running. Vicki Slater, 60, a Madison attorney and former president of Mississippi Association for Justice, a trial lawyers’ group, is favored over Dr. Valerie Short, an Air Force veteran, and retired firefighter Robert Gray. Slater will focus on the need for more funding for education and the failure of the state to expand its Medicaid coverage under Obamacare.
The race for lieutenant governor could also generate some heat, with former Republican state senator Tim Johnson who recently became a Democrat perhaps getting some national Democratic money to fuel his campaign against incumbent Tate Reeves (R). But Johnson, who has a hobby as an Elvis impersonator, is not a powerful political force in his own right. In the Democratic Primary, Johnson is favored over Jelanie Barr, an actor and losing candidate for mayor of Greenwood in 2013. In the Republican Primary, Reeves is opposed by Alisha Nelson McElhenney, a school teacher and Tea Party supporter, but McElhenney is not likely to raise much money.
Republican incumbents are favored in the other down-ballot races, although Madison Mayor Mary Hawkins Butler (R) should give state Auditor Stacey Pickering (R) a serious primary challenge. In the General Election, Joce Pritchett, the Democratic nominee, is a civil engineer and businesswoman, as well as a plaintiff in a federal lawsuit challenging the state’s ban on same-sex marriage; her position on the issue is not a popular cause in Mississippi.
Democrats failed to file for two offices, Treasurer and Insurance Commissioner.
Of interest: Two prominent Tea Party lawmakers, state Sens. Chris McDaniel and Michael Watson, failed to run for statewide office and instead filed for reelection. Thus, any momentum the GOP’s hard-right may have gained in last year’s US Senate election will, for the time being, dissipate. McDaniel, who lost a close 2014 race against US Sen. Thad Cochran (R), has hinted that he may run for federal office again, where his issues have more salience. One possibility: McDaniel might challenge US Rep. Steven Palazzo (R) in the Republican Primary next year in the 4th District (Gulfport, etc.).
The primaries for both parties will be held on August 4, with runoffs on August 25 for contests in which no candidate receives a majority. The General Election is on November 3.