Flanked by his wife, Elee Reeves, second from left, daughters Maddie, left, Emma, second from right and Tyler, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves announces his candidacy for governor, Thursday, Jan. 3, 2019, at the state GOP headquarters in Jackson, Miss., ending months of speculation about his plans. 

Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, long considered the Republican heir apparent to the Governor’s Mansion, filed qualifying paperwork on Thursday, making his 2019 gubernatorial candidacy official.

Reeves, 44, has spent years teasing the bid and building a campaign war chest as current Gov. Phil Bryant has approached his term limit. The second-term lieutenant governor had $5.4 million on hand by January 2018, the last time finance reports published. The Democratic front-runner, Attorney General Jim Hood, had raised just $656,000 by the same month.

“I am an eternal optimist, and I will run an optimistic campaign,” Reeves said Thursday in his announcement speech at the GOP headquarters in Jackson. “A campaign that focuses on results and solutions for Mississippi’s future, and a campaign that always protects the taxpayers and always protects our Mississippi values.”

With a quick ascent to political power in Mississippi, Reeves has been viewed a political wunderkind: He was first elected state treasurer in 2003, when he was a 29-year-old portfolio manager at Trustmark Bank. After serving two terms as treasurer, he was elected lieutenant governor in 2011, knocking off former state Sen. Billy Hewes in the Republican primary and coasting to victory in the general election.

Reeves, a native of Florence and resident of Flowood, has built his political career on his fiscally conservative policy. Since he began presiding over the Senate in 2012, Reeves has spearheaded more than 50 tax cuts or incentive packages — a majority of which have benefited out-of-state corporations.

He’s brought scrutiny on how state agencies can spend their money, loosened state gun ownership laws and inserted language in bills from the National Rifle Association, championed and broadened protections for those with deeply-held religious beliefs and consolidated more than a dozen public school districts, seeking to find a sweet spot where more funds go to the classroom instead of to administrators.

In his announcement speech on Thursday, Reeves said he would focus his campaign on touting economic and educational gains. He also stuck to his long-standing political strategy and threw jabs at Hood in an ongoing effort to paint Hood — considered by many to be a moderate Democrat — with liberal Democrats who are broadly unpopular in Mississippi.

“I will oppose, at every opportunity, the values of Hollywood and Washington, D.C., and I will defend the values and culture of Mississippi,” Reeves said. “The political fight that we have before us in 2019 is with the liberal policies and the liberal ideas of the party of Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi and Jim Hood, and that’s what we’re going to focus on the next 10 months.”

A poll released by Millsaps College and Chism Strategies in 2018 placed Hood’s approval rating higher than any other elected official in Mississippi. Fifty percent of Mississippians approve of Hood, while 27 percent disapprove. Reeves’ approval rating, according to the poll, rests at 37 percent, with a disapproval rating of 32 percent.

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Adam Ganucheau, as Mississippi Today's editor-in-chief, oversees the newsroom and works with the editorial team to fulfill our mission of producing high-quality journalism in the public interest. Adam has covered politics and state government for Mississippi Today since February 2016. A native of Hazlehurst, Adam has worked as a staff reporter for AL.com, The Birmingham News and The Clarion-Ledger and his work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post and Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Adam earned his bachelor’s in journalism from the University of Mississippi.