Watson, a state Senator from Pascagoula, has purchased several statewide television ads knocking Britton for running for the state House of Representatives as a Democrat in 2003 and donating to Democratic former governor Ronnie Musgrove.
Speaking just ahead of Britton on the Tuesday afternoon schedule, Watson weaved those points into his speech.
“I’m the only candidate in this race who hasn’t supported Democrats,” Watson said. “I’m the only candidate in this race who hasn’t run as a Democrat. I’m the only candidate in this race who hasn’t given to liberal Democrats like Ronnie Musgrove … I’m prepared from Day One to be a conservative secretary of state.”
Britton, a public service commissioner from Laurel, has responded in kind to the Watson attacks. He’s run television ads that highlight Watson’s donations to a political action committee that worked to keep President Donald Trump from receiving the Republican nomination in 2016. Britton, following Watson’s speech, focused his speech on attacking Watson.
“It’s apparent listening to my opponent’s speech a few moments ago that he’s angry. He’s angry that I have the nerve to tell the voters the truth,” Britton said. “I was proud to be one of the first Mississippi public officials to endorse Donald Trump when he ran for president. At the same time, my opponent was one of the largest donors to a liberal organization that tried to steal the nomination from Donald Trump at the Republican National Convention.”
Both candidates spent limited portions of their speeches talking substantive policy they’d like to implement if elected secretary of state.
Watson discussed keeping “illegal immigrants off our voting rolls,” strengthening the state’s cyber security systems to “make sure our elections are protected,” and addressing problems with long waits at the state’s driver’s license bureaus.
Britton discussed working with local officials to “ensure our elections are fair and secure” and giving businesses the tools they need to help boost the state’s economy.
The winner of the Republican primary on Aug. 6 faces Johnny DuPree, who won the 2011 Democratic nomination for governor, in the November general election.
DuPree, who served as Hattiesburg mayor from 2001-2017, talked about some of his accomplishments as mayor and pointed out he has more executive experience than either Watson or Britton.
In his speech, DuPree pitched early voting and a switch to paper ballots.
“We’re in this race to increase access to the vote and participation in the vote,” DuPree said. “With our history in Mississippi, we ought to be number one in voting. We should make it easier for people to vote, not harder … People have lost confidence in the voting process.”