Tate Reeves wins Republican nomination for Mississippi governor

Published 9:06 pm Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Mississippi second-term Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves won the Republican nomination for governor Tuesday, setting up a November general election showdown with Democrat Jim Hood, the state’s four-term attorney general.

Reeves defeated retired Mississippi Supreme Court Chief Justice Bill Waller Jr. in a Republican primary runoff.

Reeves, 45, spent more than $6 million this year — the most of any candidate in the race, regardless of party. Waller, 67, spent about $1.4 million. Waller is 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.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

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, who is limited to two terms under Mississippi law, endorsed Reeves.

Hood, 57, is trying to become Mississippi’s first Democratic governor since Ronnie Musgrove was unseated in 2003. It’s a conservative state that Donald Trump won comfortably in the 2016 presidential election.

Hood easily defeated seven low-budget candidates in the Aug. 6 Democratic primary. In the Aug. 6 Republican primary, Reeves received 49% to Waller’s 33%. The third-place candidate, state Rep. Robert Foster, endorsed Waller.

Polls closed at 7 p.m. Election officials had not released turnout numbers.

Some minor problems cropped up with a small number of voting machines: Three votes were cast on a machine in Vardaman before a problem was reported and the machine was taken out of service. At a precinct in Houlka, a problem was reported after nine votes were cast. In that case a technician checked the machine and found it to be operating correctly. Earlier Tuesday, a machine in northern Mississippi’s Lafayette County was reported to be switching votes from one candidate to another, affecting 19 votes, said Anna Moak, spokeswoman for the Mississippi secretary of state’s office.

A Waller supporter in Lafayette County, Ethan Peterson, shot video of that machine, which he said already had an X next to Reeves’ name when he inserted a card to start his ballot. He tried several times to vote for Waller and said he called a poll worker over for help.

“I told them, ‘I’m not going to vote at all if I’m going to vote for Tate,'” Peterson said.

Peterson said he and the poll worker figured out how to clear the screen, and he was able to vote for Waller.

Lafayette County Circuit Clerk Baretta Mosley told the AP that all of the county’s voting machines were functioning properly when they were tested Friday. She said a machine can fall out of calibration and malfunction if it is later dropped or handled roughly.

Moak also said that in the state’s largest county, Hinds, some electronic poll books used by Republicans were not showing whether people had voted in the Democratic primary Aug. 6. People who vote in one party’s primary are banned from voting in the other party’s runoff. Moak said poll workers were checking voters’ history on paper records that were on hand as a backup.

Waller ran a TV ad portraying himself as the adult in the race. In the ad, a child resembling Reeves and wearing the candidate’s oft-preferred khaki pants and blue dress shirt, wreaks havoc at a birthday party.

Reeves has acknowledged his own hard-nosed reputation: In an ad run in the closing days of the campaign, he looks directly at the camera and says, “Now here’s something you won’t see often in politics. I’m here to tell you my opponent Bill Waller is a nice guy. I respect him, but I disagree with his ideas.”

The candidates differed sharply on two issues that dominated the discussion over the past several weeks: gasoline taxes and expanding Medicaid.

Waller proposed increasing the gas tax to pay for highways. He also said he wanted to let people with low-paying jobs purchase Medicaid coverage, similar to a plan that Indiana adopted when Vice President Mike Pence was governor. Waller said the influx of federal money would help keep rural hospitals open.

Reeves opposed both ideas and ran on a record of cutting taxes.

Hood has said he wants to reduce Mississippi’s 7% sales tax on groceries at least by half — and possibly altogether. Hood also said he wants to expand Medicaid to the working poor, which is an option under the federal health overhaul that then-President Barack Obama signed into law in 2010. Mississippi is among the 14 states that have not expanded the program.

Two other gubernatorial candidates who are running low-budget campaigns will be on the Nov. 5 general election ballot: the Constitution Party’s Bob Hickingbottom and independent David Singletary.