Bill Waller, Tate Reeves battle for likeability, electability in GOP runoff

Published 3:37 pm Friday, August 23, 2019

Republican Tate Reeves was a 29-year-old banker and political novice when he won his first statewide office in Mississippi in 2003. After two terms as treasurer and the next two as lieutenant governor, Reeves now has his sights set on becoming governor.

To advance to the Nov. 5 general election ballot and face four-term Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood for the state’s highest office, Reeves must first win his own party’s nomination. Doing so will require overcoming an obstacle of his own making: a reputation as a hard-nosed politician who’s not afraid to make enemies.

Teachers upset about tight education budgets gave him the silent treatment when he appeared before them this the summer. Roadbuilders say his fondness for frugality has left the state with crumbling highways and perilous bridges.

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Reeves, 45, is competing in a Republican primary runoff Tuesday against Bill Waller Jr., 67, a retired chief justice of the Mississippi Supreme Court. Waller, who has a courtly demeanor and an easy smile, is also a retired brigadier general in the Mississippi National Guard and son of the late Gov. Bill Waller Sr., a moderate Democrat who served from 1972 to 1976.

Mississippi, Louisiana and Kentucky are the only states electing governors this year, and Mississippi has the only race without an incumbent. Republican Gov. Phil Bryant is limited to two terms, and he’s endorsing Reeves. Hood is trying to become Mississippi’s first Democratic governor since Ronnie Musgrove was unseated in 2003, but that’s a tough challenge in a conservative state that Donald Trump won comfortably in the 2016 presidential election.

In the Aug. 6 Republican primary, Reeves received 49% to Waller’s 33%. The third-place candidate, state Rep. Robert Foster, has endorsed Waller.

Reeves, who is spending more than Waller on the campaign, carried 74 of the state’s 82 counties in the primary, but lost close to home.

“He failed to carry his precinct,” Waller said in an interview Wednesday. “He failed to carry his county. I think that’s significant.”