Studio portrait of Sid Salter. (photo by Beth Wynn / © Mississippi State University)

By: Sid Salter

A 2019 gubernatorial battle between incumbent Republican Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves of Rankin County and incumbent Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood of Chickasaw County stacks up as an instant classic old school political street brawl – the likes of which hasn’t been seen in Mississippi since Republican Haley Barbour squared off against Democrat Ronnie Musgrove in 2003.

In that race – to date the most expensive governor’s race in Mississippi history – Barbour unseated incumbent Gov. Musgrove by taking 52.6 percent of the vote (470,404) to 45.8 percent (409,787) for Musgrove. The other 1.6 percent of the vote was spilt between minor party candidates John Crips, Shawn O’Hara, and Sherman Lee Dillon.

Between Barbour and Musgrove, some $18 million was expended in that 2003 gubernatorial campaign with Barbour getting the benefit of another $5 million in television advertising paid for by the Republican Governor’s Association.

In that same 2003 Mississippi general election, GOP nominee Reeves won election as the first Republican state treasurer with 51.8 percent of the vote or 447,860 votes to Democrat Gary Anderson’s 46.64 percent of the vote or 403,307. Elsewhere on that 2003 ballot, Democrat Hood won election to his first term as attorney general with 62.71 percent of the vote or 548,046 votes to 37.29 percent of the vote or 325,942 for Republican Scott Newton.

In 2007, Reeves won re-election as state treasurer over Democrat Shawn O’Hara with 60.53 percent of the vote or 436,833 votes. The 2007 election saw Hood win re-election as attorney general with a 59.82 or 440,017 vote win over Republican challenger Al Hopkins.

The 2011 statewide elections saw Reeves win his first term as lieutenant governor. Reeves prevailed in a bruising, hotly contested Republican primary battle with Billy Hewes of Gulfport with a convincing 56.89 percent of the primary vote. In the 2011 general election. Reeves cruised with 80.35 percent of the vote against Reform Party nominee Tracella Lou O’Hara.

On that same 2011 ballot, Hood won a third term as attorney general with a 61.08 percent or 536,827 vote win over GOP challenger Steve Simpson.

In the 2015 elections, Reeves won a second term as lieutenant governor after crushing GOP primary opponent Alisha Nelson McElhenney with 82.50 percent of the primary vote. Reeves then dispatched his general election opponents with 60.5 percent of the vote – including Democrat Tim “Elvis” Johnson with 35.94 percent, Libertarian Ron Williams with 2.28 percent, and Reform Party nominee Rosa Williams with 1.32 percent.

The 2015 race saw Hood defeat Republican challenger Mike Hurst – now the Southern District U.S. Attorney – with 55.29 percent of the vote to Hurst’s 44.71 percent.

Out of the starting blocks, Reeves has amassed a campaign war chest of well over $5 million and has not been particularly coy about his desire to seek the governor’s office. Term limited after two consecutive terms as lieutenant governor, Reeves’ entry into the governor’s race has been almost a forgone conclusion. Reeves’ campaign is already underway, full speed ahead.

Hood, on the other hand, has been much closer to the vest about his plans until the last few months. But in recent weeks, it’s been evident that Hood’s long-rumored gubernatorial bid was going to happen and that fact is not taken as a surprise by the Reeves camp. The worst-kept secret in Mississippi politics is out.

A Reeves-Hood matchup pits two proven public officials who each have been able to command popular vote majorities in four consecutive elections. The Reeves win over Hewes in the 2011 GOP primary particularly served notice of Reeves’ strength among his own party.

But Hood is a different breed of cat for the Democrats. Hood has won popular vote majorities even with Republicans dominating the top of the ticket in the state and with the GOP throwing everything but the kitchen sink at him in four straight elections and still failing to unseat him.

No one in the Mississippi GOP – least of all a battle-tested Reeves – will be taking Hood lightly in 2019.