Down in the polls and thin in the pocketbook, Bill Waller Jr. and Robert Foster are using a tried and true campaign strategy to gain ground on Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves in the 2019 Republican primary for governor: Retail politicking.
Waller out-traveled Reeves and Foster during the month of May, a Mississippi Today analysis of campaign schedules shows. The schedules were compiled using schedules submitted by the campaigns, social media posts and news articles about election events.
Reeves, holding more than $6 million in campaign cash and running pricey television ads airing across the state since April 23, could afford to stay closer to home last month.
The second-term lieutenant governor made 30 campaign stops in May, visiting 19 of the state’s 82 counties. More than half of Reeves’ stops were made in the 12 counties that were home to the most Republican voters in 2016.
But with considerably less money to spend on television advertising, Waller and Foster hit the road hard, exhibiting two different campaign strategies.
Waller traveled the most of the three Republican candidates, making at least 54 stops during the month of May. The former chief justice of the Mississippi Supreme Court pointedly focused his travel strategy on key counties that are home to the most Republican votes.
He stopped seven times in DeSoto County, home to the second most Republican votes in the state. He stopped four times in Rankin County, the state’s heaviest Republican voting county, and four times in Harrison County, where the third most Republican voters live.
Of Waller’s campaign stops in May, 36 of them were in the top 15 counties for Republican voters. In all, Waller campaigned in 29 of the state’s 82 counties during May — the most of any Republican gubernatorial candidate.
“By meeting with people one-on-one, in groups and at debates and forums, people deserve to hear directly from the person asking for their vote,” Waller said. “That’s why I’m running a grassroots campaign focused on issues we’ve got to tackle right here at home.”
Foster, the freshman state representative who made 36 campaign stops in May, also traveled more than Reeves.
While he made a handful of stops in heavily populated Republican counties, Foster focused the vast majority of his May travel in counties where fewer Republican voters live.
He was the only Republican candidate to visit Carroll County, home to 3,800 Republican voters in 2016; Humphreys County, home to 1,150 Republican voters; Itawamba County, home to 8,500 Republican voters; and Tunica County, home to 853 Republican voters.
Just 14 of Foster’s 36 stops were in the top 15 most populated Republican counties. He is the only Republican candidate for governor who campaigned in the heart of the Delta in May, stopping on May 23 in Belzoni.
“Every area of Mississippi matters to me, including the rural communities,” Foster said. “Past leaders of our state have overlooked many of those places. People are ready for leadership that wants to represent our entire state.”
At least one Republican candidate for governor visited 43 of Mississippi’s 82 counties in May. Of the 17 counties where at least 10,000 Republican voters live, Republican candidates declined to visit just three of those counties: Hancock County, home to 13,700 Republican voters; Lowndes County, home to 13,124 voters; and Monroe County, home to 10,100 Republican voters.
The only Republican candidate to visit ruby red Jones County, home to 20,000 Republican voters, last month was Waller, who stopped in Laurel three different times. The only Republican candidate to visit conservative Pearl River County, home to 18,000 GOP voters, last month was Foster, who stopped once in Picayune.
Breakdown of May travel by Republican candidate for governor:
• Made 36 campaign stops in total
• 14 of 36 stops were in the top 15 counties by 2016 GOP voters
• Stopped in 27 of Mississippi’s 82 counties
• Made 30 campaign stops in total
• 16 of 30 stops were in the top 12 counties by 2016 GOP voters
• Stopped in 19 of Mississippi’s 82 counties
Bill Waller Jr.:
• Made 54 campaign stops in total
• 36 of 54 stops were in the top 15 counties by 2016 GOP voters
• Stopped in 29 of Mississippi’s 82 counties