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For all the news stories that have been actively been pushed by the “under the dome” press crowd discussing the possibilities of Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann potentially challenging Lt. Governor Tate Reeves in a primary next year, we can deduce a few things. First, Hosemann has not denied it. Arguably, he’s had a couple of opportunities where he’s actually stoked the fire a bit. There’s a lot of chatter among those who regularly give to candidates and there seems to be some consensus that Hosemann is interested, but isn’t expressly asking for anything at this point. Second, there’s some organization behind that conversation. It may be being pushed by Hosemann or by someone else, but it’s unquestionably an organized effort.

Before I get into the merits of a Hosemann vs. Reeves primary matchup, let’s catch up on a little history.

HOSEMANN

Delbert Hosemann has changed the game in the Secretary of State’s office. He’s taken a constitutionally weak office and he’s actually gotten some stuff done. Voter ID, changes in corporate structures, and helping in the legal redistricting fight are all huge feathers in his cap. I daresay he’s been the best Secretary of State in Mississippi history hands down. Politically, he’s a pragmatist and the only retail hitch he’s had is inducing the ire of the extreme edge of the Tea Party with his support for Thad Cochran and pushing against both Chris McDaniel and Melanie Sojourner. That’s something he shares with Reeves.

REEVES

Likewise, Tate Reeves has been enormously accomplished. He has weilded the most powerful constitutional office in the state and run the Senate with a strong hand. He has helped develop a true Republican numerical majority in the Senate and has used that to push the much more divided House into more conservative lawmaking. He has really made his mark on the policy side, especially on education. Rebranding school rankings to A-F, helping to institute a real charter schools law, the 2012 bond bill showdown, redistricting, good budgets, and a slew of pro-business legislation are all things that are directly attributable to his leadership. Though he’s the statewide official that Tea Partiers love to hate on Facebook, the truth is that no one in state government has probably been a tougher advocate for the meat and potatoes conservative fiscal and policy issues than Reeves.

THE POTENTIAL SHOWDOWN

I'll go on record to say that I don’t think that Hosemann will pull the trigger to run against Reeves even if he is considering it. I think this is an exercise in “tickling the wires”, which is to float a trial balloon and see what feedback comes in.

But just in case, let’s play what if. What if Hosemann challenges Reeves? The first thing is that Republican primary would cost both sides a combined total of at least $8 million. Reeves already has over $2 million in the bank and he’d probably raise at least another $3 million more. He is a prodigious fundraiser and not long ago had an event that raised over $600,000. Out of state money would likely sit on the sideline. It’s a safe Republican seat almost no matter what. You wouldn’t see big out of state money play in that primary because they’d have absolutely no reason to. It would also make the Secretary of State seat an open one that Republicans could fumble. Brandon Presley will undoubtedly run for something statewide.

Both guys have good office staffs and political teams. Casey Phillips would likely still be in Delbert Hosemann’s corner. Widely credited with the old lady on the bench spots, Casey has distinguished himself nationally in a slew of other races. In Reeves’ corner, Justin Brasell is a veteran of a lot of tough campaigns including the bareknuckled brawl between Reeves and Billy Hewes in 2007. And he just got finished with the Tom Cotton race in Arkansas to unseat an incumbent Democrat (Pryor) in the wave election of 2014.

And then we get into the analysis of what policy positions could Hosemann stake out to justify to voters that Reeves needs to get beat. That’s the one thing that has been most notably lacking from the political chatter. What would be the key plank that Hosemann would run against Reeves on? Where exactly is Reeves deficient other than maybe being loved under the Capitol Dome?

Knowing folks on both sides who would be involved, a Hosemann/Reeves primary would make Cochran vs. McDaniel look like tame by comparison. In a Hosemann/Reeves primary, you’d have brains and money on both sides of the equation. If they ever did lock horns, it would look a whole lot like the Phil Bryant/Charlie Ross primary in 2007. For those of you who don’t remember, that one got downright bloody, and I think it would get bloody early and not just at the end.

The question for conservatives is what else could the Republican party do with $8,000,000 in money for primaries?

There are two bleeding needs in Republican politics in Mississippi right now. First, is making sure that the House of Representatives stays in Republican hands. It’s likely, but certainly not a given. Joe Nosef will need money to field good candidates and help to make sure that happens. A bloodbath near the top of the ticket will suck energy and money from that effort.

Unquestionably, the biggest need for Republicans is to get a hold of the Attorney General’s seat. Jim Hood is generally popular (when measured against no one else) and has his pet issues of sexting, elder abuse and getting coupons for free floppy disks after suing computer software giants. A small band of trial lawyers are awfully glad Hood doles them out work. Hood is certainly a populist and good for a piling on some death penalty cases, too. However, for 11 years, he has been an absentee landlord when it comes to public corruption. We have had several major scandals where his office was not only not involved, but at least one where he essentially recused himself because it “would be like prosecuting a relative” . (Quick – name a public corruption case in the last decade that the AG’s office has led the charge on.) It’s hard to believe, but the only public corruption fighting in Mississippi in over a decade as been happening at the State Auditor level instead of the Attorney General level. Plus, Mississippi has one of the least friendly legal environments to companies selling products and doing business here and that starts at the Attorney General’s office.

Delbert Hosemann just happens to be an outstanding and truly gifted lawyer. I think he could have even more impact in the AG’s office than he’s had at the Secretary of State’s office. In 2007 and 2012, Republicans have not run anyone credible against Hood. Hosemann could well be the guy that not only beat Hood but have the fortitude to run the AG’s office and institute the things that need to be done to fix two decades of decline. It would be a tough political fight, no doubt. But outside money would fall from the sky to help Hosemann unseat Hood and, in my opinion, Mississippi would be better off for it. And Hosemann could easily stake out the policy positions where he differs from Hood and how he could do it better. I think of the things that could be done for better government from that office . . . really fighting public corruption, working on real appellate issues for the state, and adopting a fair stance for litigation rather than doling out millions of dollars to just a few wealthy trial lawyer insiders.

This isn't the first time there has been some organized chatter around running someone against Reeves. Two years ago, there were rumors flying that Lynn Fitch was being groomed to run against Reeves with her issues being the College Savings plan and PERS. This also isn’t the first time that there’s been some organized push around Hosemann for another office other than Secretary of State. In mid-2013, Hosemann’s political apparatus was pushing hard to position him for the US Senate seat that Thad Cochran ultimately ran for re-election. If Hosemann or folks around him think he’s hit the political glass ceiling and are looking for a new mission after the Secretary of State’s office, I’d humbly suggest Delbert for AG in 2015.

That’s something that all Mississippi conservatives could get behind in a big way. It would certainly be a better use of $8,000,000.

Posted December 2, 2014 - 8:01 am

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