Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood, left, and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves speak during the Neshoba County Fair Wednesday, August 1, 2018.

In what’s being handicapped as the most competitive Mississippi governor’s race in at least 16 years, Republican Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves raised $1.7 million in 2018, outraising Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood by $1 million.

Reeves, the second-term lieutenant governor who is considered the Republican frontrunner for governor in 2019, raised $1.7 million between Jan. 1, 2018 and Dec. 31, 2018. However, Reeves spent the last few years raising $5.2 million, giving him $6.7 million to spend going into 2019.

Hood, considered the Democratic frontrunner for governor, raised $716,000 in 2018, reporting just over $1 million cash on hand going into 2019.

“People from across Mississippi are supporting this campaign to send a message: Mississippi values matter. We’re not going to let them get replaced with the liberal agenda of politicians like Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, and Jim Hood,” Reeves said in a statement. “The best way to protect our values is solid conservative leadership from the governor’s office, and I’m grateful to everyone who contributed some of their hard-earned paycheck to that cause.”

Hood’s campaign on Thursday pointed out that 88 percent of his contributions came from inside the state of Mississippi, with 60 percent of the total coming from donations of $200 or less.

“I’m proud of the support we have received from a cross-section of Mississippians who want a governor who listens to and cares about their needs,” said Hood. “Our campaign is about putting Mississippi families first. It’s about Mississippi families who want great schools; safe roads and bridges; quality healthcare; and a governor who is always approachable and in tune to the challenges we face together as a state.”

The two lesser known gubernatorial candidates who have qualified to run submitted reports on Thursday that were modest in comparison. State Rep. Robert Foster, R-Hernando, raised about $20,000 in 2018. Foster announced he would run for governor in early December.

Velesha Williams, a Democrat and a retired director of the Metro Jackson Community Prevention Coalition at Jackson State University, raised about $7,000. Williams also announced her candidacy in December.

The campaign finance reports are the first released publicly since the candidates officially declared for the governor’s race. Fundraising prowess helps shape public opinion about a candidate’s viability and their ability to fend off primary and general election opponents alike.

Reeves’ $6.7 million on hand with 10 months before the election places him in good historical company. In 2003, when Republican lobbyist Haley Barbour defeated incumbent Democratic Gov. Ronnie Musgrove, Barbour raised $10.9 million and spent $11.3 million, not including expenditures from out-of-state groups that do not report contributions and expenditures.

In that same election Musgrove raised $6.7 million, which itself would have set a statewide campaign record but for Barbour’s unprecedented showing.

But a lopsided fundraising effort does not always predetermine the outcome of an election.

In the last closely contested statewide election, the 2018 U.S. Senate midterm between Republican Cindy Hyde-Smith and Democrat Mike Espy, the winner ended up raising significantly less than the loser.

Espy performed a rare feat last year, outraising Hyde-Smith by $2 million, according to finance reports filed Thursday to the Federal Election Commission. Espy raised $6.9 million to Hyde-Smith’s $4.9 million. When individual contributions were tabulated, the differences were more stark. Espy received $6.4 million in individual contributions, nearly double Hyde-Smith’s $3.3 million.

Still, Hyde-Smith defeated Espy in the special election runoff by a margin of nearly eight percentage points, 53.9 percent to 46.1 percent.

Contributing: Larrison Campbell and Bobby Harrison

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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.