Attorney General Jim Hood seems to be occupying a political island of his own design. The game plan for his gubernatorial campaign is pretty simple. Run the table on turnout of Democrats and try and peel out rural white moderates to edge out his Republican opponent, Lieutenant Governor Tate Reeves.
However, that’s a tall order that requires a precarious balance.
If he embraces his fellow national Democrats or is even seen publicly with them or they come campaign on his behalf, he’s sunk.
If he takes money from trial lawyers or liberal Hollywood types, he’s sunk.
If he is forced to speak out against President Trump, who is incredibly popular among the narrow band of white voters he needs to peel off, he’s sunk. If he even gives Trump a wink and a nod, the vast majority of his base in the black community would bail on him.
If he embraces the base of his own state party, even those who are literally begging for his help publicly like Democrat AG candidate Jennifer Riley-Collins, he’s sunk.
And complicating matters even further during the last weeks of Hood’s campaign for Governor, Trump may well be in the throes of an impeachment proceeding led by hyper-partisan DC Democrats. At the same time, national Democrat presidential candidates are competing to outdo each other in debates on fringe issue positions such as climate change mandates, abortion on demand, massive tax increases, single payer healthcare and gun control.
In a deeply partisan state, he’s forced to try and craft this “neither fish nor fowl” status as a Democrat-but-not-really candidate. As AG where his primary job was suing companies and pursuing criminals, it didn’t matter. Now running for the policy-centric position of Governor, it’s a whole different kettle of fish. Governors have to make policy decisions that AG’s simply don’t. They make appointments (for judges and senators that have real policy implications). Straddling the fence politically will no longer be an option.
The result for the Hood campaign is an almost overly curated press existence. He appears only in the most tightly scripted settings. His press advisers only make him available in perfectly friendly venues and have, on several occasions recently, hand-selected press outlets they know that are committed to give Hood favorable coverage and hidden press avails from outlets that they fear ‘may openly question Hood on unscripted items. Though he said he would debate “anytime anywhere”, his handlers are furiously trying to manicure an environment devoid of risk for him to appear.
Here are some examples of how Hood is trying to split the baby from a messaging perspective.
In 2016, he was elected as a delegate to the Democrat National Convention where Hillary Clinton was nominated for president. But he didn’t go. And he refuses to confirm in the current context whether or not he supported her – even in contravention to his party’s state by laws. But at the time, he did say that he believed Clinton had a “heart for Mississippi” and that her election over Trump would have been a good thing.
Earlier this year, Hood was forced to answer a question about whether he supported Donald Trump on a radio show. He called it a “trick question”.
On Monday, @HoodForGovernor appeared on @John_Horhn's radio show on WMPR. When a caller asked whether or not Jim Hood would support @realDonaldTrump, Hood responded that it was a "trick question".#msgov #mselex pic.twitter.com/nx34Iero4Z
— Yall Politics (@MSyallpolitics) May 8, 2019
In Hood’s ad about the Coast, where Reeves polls exceedingly well, he features video with him and his rival, Republican Governor Phil Bryant. Bryant has endorsed Hood’s opponent, Reeves, and has made the defeat of Hood a central piece of his political legacy. For him to feature a clip of Bryant in his video is Exhibit A to how badly Hood needs to not appear to be a Democrat to rural white voters for his own political survival.
The Gulf Coast is so important to Mississippi. That's why I fought to protect it and its residents following Katrina and the BP oil spill. And that's why I'm fighting the devastating intrusion of freshwater into the Mississippi Sound. Happy to share with you our fifth ad out today, running in the Biloxi and New Orleans markets.
Posted by Jim Hood For Governor on Friday, September 27, 2019
And yet his fellow party members don’t utter a syllable about trying to cozying up to Republicans.
The truth is that only two things are possible with regards to Hood. Either
- Hood honestly does not know what he thinks about the politics of Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi, Mitch McConnell or Donald Trump.
- He knows exactly what he thinks but can’t say for fear that his election chances would be sunk.
Despite having Hood not acknowledge anywhere that he is in fact a Democrat (not on ads, not on website, never spoken about publicly), the Democrat Party apparatus seems perfectly content to let Hood do absolutely whatever he has to do to be Governor. And in 2019 that means basically leaving him alone and requiring nothing of him (in terms of fundraising, candidate appearances, etc.).
The hard truth is that Hood is the only statewide Democrat candidate that has a prayer of being elected. There’s literally no amount of money that can be pumped into the down-ticket statewide races to move them. Seven of the eight statewide races are essentially already decided absent some sort of cataclysmic political event. The best that Democrats can hope for in the Mississippi legislature is simply not to have Republicans maintain a super-majority. Hood is literally their only political option.
From the Democrats I’ve spoken with, their bet is that with the appointment power of the governor (agency heads, judge and US Senate vacancies, and boards and commissions) that whatever price they have to pay to get Hood in there would be worth it to resuscitate it from near political irrelevance.
THE LAST 6 WEEKS
Independent money is about to be put to work for Hood, and there’s going to be a lot of it. There are lots of national groups that Hood could not take money from or show any association with. But that’s not likely to stop them from trying to spend money via independent expenditures. Much like the Pro-Publica founder-backed PAC that engaged on behalf of Hood’s fellow Democrat Mike Espy in 2018, it’s a safe bet that they’ll do everything possible to inflame and motivate the Democrat base by attacking Reeves leaving Hood the more delicate task of peeling off rural white voters.
This race so far has not shown a lot of signs of life. But the whistle is about to blow, and for five weeks, this race is going to get hectic.
Reeves’s job will be about making this race about elephants and donkeys, and if Phil Bryant has anything to say about it, President Trump will be helping in that regard.
Hood’s job will be about obfuscating policy and politics. He’ll have help from a fawning and compliant press establishment – or what’s left of it.
Almost regardless of execution by both candidates down the stretch, this will be a close race (likely inside 4 points) and well worth the price of admission – one vote.