The feature race this past Tuesday was the Republican gubernatorial primary.
Here’s the breakdown of counties
- Tate Reeves won 74 counties
- Bill Waller, Jr. won 6 counties
- Robert Foster won 2 counties
Of the 74 counties, Reeves won, he had a majority in 49 of those counties. He had a plurality in another 23.
The Reeves team made a calculated gamble in the primary that didn’t quite pay off. Entering election day with $5,000,000+ in the bank, it was clearly Reeves strategy to not “burn the house down” in the primary. Winning 50.1% was plenty in their minds. The poll we published in June had it predicted within the margin of error for Reeves. The undecideds at that point were presumably going to split between the challengers, and that’s essentially what happened. The Mason Dixon poll had the difference between Reeves and Waller at 10 points.
Reeves stayed focused on November and did not want to give Waller (or those voting “anti-Tate”) any more momentum than he already had. Nor does it appear that he wanted to spend a million dollars on negative campaigning against Waller (which Reeves clearly could have and may in fact still do).
The calculation seemed to be to try and eek out a win in the primary, which he came within about 4,000 votes of doing and dispatching of his primary competitors relatively quietly. Robert Foster generally overperformed expectations and it is likely his good showing in the debate and late run in the polls that took away the last point or two of undecideds.
Suburban, College-Educated Republicans
Reeves has developed an issue with suburban, college-educated Republicans.
Waller won the metro area (Hinds, Rankin, and Madison), and he ran up the score some against Reeves in Hinds and Madison. Beating Reeves in his home county of Rankin was notable. Waller also won Leflore and notably Lafayette, which shares much of the same suburban sensibilities as metro Jackson.
What seems clear from the math is that the more metro elite (“Country Club”) Republicans seemed to want to send a message to Reeves. Refining that even a little further, business owners particularly in the metro area still support Reeves financially, but it’s clearly white collar, executives (that may not own their own businesses), teachers and government employees and special interest groups like road builders are the ones who have the most antipathy to Reeves. However, working class Republicans, as evidenced by the map and the election results are still clearly with Reeves.
The Cards that Foster Now Holds
Robert Foster now has some options.
- Endorse Tate Reeves
- Endorse Bill Waller
- Endorse no one.
A full-throated endorsement by Foster of Reeves would effectively deal a serious blow to Waller. Foster had 10,000 votes alone in Desoto county. Another 3,800 in Rankin, and 3,500 in Jones. No endorsement confers 100% effectiveness, but if Foster holds sway with his voters as it appears he might, the math would be really daunting for Waller.
Were Foster to endorse Waller it would certainly make the last three weeks a dog fight for all of the marbles and would likely force Reeves to open up his warchest against Waller. Again, Waller and Foster combined didn’t total 52%. And again, Foster may opt to just sit the runoff out and keep his powder dry for a future opportunity.
Mississippi’s future is too important to sit idly by on the sideline and spectate. I’ve never done that, and I’m not…
But it does sound like from Foster’s own mouth that he’ll do something.
Other Runoff Dynamics
Anytime there’s a runoff, it’s always instructive to look at what else will be on the ballot. The runoff between Lynn Fitch and Andy Taggart for Attorney General may show some signs of life that would get voters to the polls. In the northern third of the state, there will be a runoff for Transportation Commissioner as well. There will also be a smattering of state house and senate races.
But the biggest game in town is still the Reeves/Waller showdown, and we will likely start seeing everyone’s strategy emerge early next week.