Other than protecting their majority in the state Legislature and blunting possible intra party challenges that would give Democrats hope they otherwise would not enjoy at the ballot box, Mississippi Republicans want to crack the code that would lead them to electoral success in the Attorney General's office.
Fresh off a flood of tobacco and trial lawyer money, and riding the coattails of former AG Mike Moore, Jim Hood was elected in 2003. Since Hood's initial win, Republicans have run two pretty poor candidates (Al Hopkins in 2007 and Steve Simpson in 2011) against him with predictably poor results.
While Democrats and Republicans alike point to Hood’s relatively high favorability ratings in name ID polls, Hood has not really been held up against a strong retail candidate in head-to-head polling matchups. In other words, he polls highly . . . against nobody.
Could 2015 be the year that the tide turns, allowing the GOP to finally get over their Everest of AG?
There are now more voters identifying themselves as conservative and Republicans than at any time in state history (just ask Ronnie Musgrove and Travis Childers). The national narrative is on the GOP's side going into 2015 and the energy from traditional Republican and Tea Party voters would seem to give Mississippi Republicans the best chance to date of mounting a real run to capture the Attorney General seat.
Various Republican names have been floated to challenge Hood in 2015, most recently state Rep. Mark Baker and Jackson County District Attorney Tony Lawrence. Both have all but ended that speculation.
I've said that if Jones County state Senator Chris McDaniel (R) believes himself to be too big for the Mississippi Senate after his 2014 US Senate campaign running for AG would be his best bet to rebrand himself and unify the party around defeating a Democrat. But given the intellectual and legal bankruptcy of his election challenge, AG wouldn’t be the place for him to go.
Who, then, does that leave to give Jim Hood a real challenge that could actually result in a Republican win in November 2015?
How about Andy Taggart?
Taggart, a well known Mississippi author, political commentator and attorney, has the unique ability to raise money, debate issues with a true constitutional conservative mindset, and carry the Republican banner in most any setting he's placed.
Taggart has served as a Madison County Supervisor and as former Governor Kirk Fordice's chief of staff. Most recently he’s been tapped by Governor Phil Bryant to help lead a commission that will attempt to untangle the mess left in the wake of the Chris Epps indictments at MDOC.
He's perhaps best known for his work with Jere Nash, a Democrat, on two books on Mississippi's political history and his weekly television commentaries on WLBT's Red Blue Review.
It is on that TV segment this week where Taggart hinted at his interest in possibly running for Attorney General. Taggart, when discussing potential statewide office challenges, noted on AG, "...that's the one statewide office that I personally would have any interest..."
MSNewsNow.com - Jackson, MS
If Taggart decides to run for AG and Hood stays on for one more term, which from all indications he will, that would instantly be the hottest race in 2015. The dynamics could be interesting.
If both Phil Bryant and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves avoid primary challenges, you could expect both to expend significant political and financial capital (for different reasons) to help someone who has a real chance to beat Hood.
As far as the roadmap for how to beat Hood, it’s safe to say that Hood will retreat to being a “tough on crime” and “tough on business” AG.
But as Y’allPolitics has been documenting for a decade, Jim Hood has been an absolute absentee landlord on public corruption. From the Dickie Scruggs scandal to DMR to the Chris Epps scandal, which were all multi-year multi-faceted major corruption scandals, Hood has just essentially been out to lunch on minding the matters of state government operating with integrity. State Auditor Stacey Pickering has been the only one out there fighting corruption at the statewide level.
While Hood is good at the populist “God, gays and guns” issues that he defines as “conservatism," Mississippians can and should expect more from an AG. With the recent revelations from the Sony hacking scandal that Hood has essentially been used as a government sanctioned attack dog for trial lawyer friends/contributors and anti-business interests
, a Taggart candidacy could give Mississippians a glimpse of how it’s supposed to be.
With qualifying for statewide offices starting in just weeks and ending in March, we will know soon.