Delbert Hosemann gave one of his strongest hints that he will seek higher office by declaring Monday that he will not run for a fourth term as secretary of state.

The chief elections official in Mississippi, Hosemann’s name is a mainstay of political gossip as a potential lieutenant governor candidate in 2019. Over the weekend, the Clarion-Ledger reported that Hosemann, 70, announced his intention to run for that post to a group of public school children who were visiting the Capitol last week.

Speaking at a luncheon Monday for the Capitol press corps, Hosemann quipped that he thought he could trust a group of 10-year-olds before saying that he believes he’s accomplished his goals as secretary of state, which oversees elections, securities and business regulations.

“Y’all hired me to do the business laws. Y’all hired me to update 16th section land; we’ve done that. (Voters) hired me over voter ID, and that’s been accomplished. There were a whole series of things that I started out to do, and I think I’ve done those and I think it’s time for somebody else to step in to the secretary of state’s role,” Hosemann, a Republican, said when a reporter asked about his political future.

“I still have great interest in Mississippi. I’m particularly interested in an educated workforce and education itself. So I don’t know that we won’t be on the ballot somewhere, but I don’t anticipate it being the secretary of state’s office.”

Hosemann first won election as secretary of state in 2007. In the 90s, he ran for a U.S. House seat and since, his name has occasionally popped up as a Congressional candidate, including as a replacement should U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran step aside or become too ill to serve.

Cochran, who has served in the Senate since 1976, recently announced that he would step down on April 1 for health reasons, which would prompt Gov. Phil Bryant to name a temporary replacement and call a special session for later in the year, likely in November.

In the meantime, Hosemann said he in concentrating on beefing up his agency’s safeguards from attacks.

Mississippi was unsuccessfully attacked 2,000 times during the 2016 election campaign, Hosemann said. With concerns that Russia and other hackers will seek to step up their efforts in the upcoming mid-term elections, he said his office has increased security by encrypting data, installing firewalls and hiring consultants to test the integrity of the elections system; the hackers have been unsuccessful, he  added.

Hosemann said even though he worries about the safety of Mississippi’s election system, there is a bigger threat looming.

“You know what the biggest risk is, though? It’s not that you (hackers) change one ballot but that you change the perception of the election … When they internally attempt to discredit both parties or one candidate or another and put salacious things on the internet — those are weakening the republic, democracy.”

Hosemann told reporters:

“The biggest defender of this is going to be a free press that maintains its integrity. If (citizens) don’t trust you, where you get biased one way or another, then we’ll lose the bulwark of what we need to have fair elections. So y’all got a big job.”

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Ryan L. Nave, a native of University City, Mo., served as Mississippi Today's editor-in-chief from May 2018 until April 2020. Ryan began his career with Mississippi Today February 2016 as an original member of the editorial team. He became news editor August 2016. Ryan has a bachelor’s in political science from the University of Missouri-Columbia and has worked for Illinois Times and served as news editor for the Jackson Free Press.