Foster endorsement could boost Waller in pivotal DeSoto County in runoff with Reeves

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Eric J. Shelton/Mississippi Today, Report For America

Republican candidate for governor, Rep. Robert Foster speaks media during the Neshoba County Fair in Philadelphia, Miss., Thursday, Aug. 1, 2019.

State Rep. Robert Foster’s endorsement today of Bill Waller Jr. in the Republican runoff for governor could give Waller a boost in one of his weakest counties and one of the most important in Republican primaries – DeSoto.

“This was a decision I prayed a lot about quite a bit, and over the last week, I’ve taken a lot of input from supporters across the state. … There’s thousands and thousands of people out there in the state of Mississippi trying to make a decision on which way to go … I’m going to support Justice Bill Waller. There’s some bigger picture issues facing our state. We’re last place for a reason. It’s because we have policies in place in Jackson that keep us in last place.”

Former Chief Justice Bill Waller will face Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves in an Aug. 27 runoff. The will will take on Attorney General Jim Hood in the general election.

Foster finished third statewide, but won his home county of DeSoto in the Aug. 6 primary with nearly 49 percent of the vote while Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves placed second with almost 40 percent. Waller, former chief justice of the Mississippi Supreme Court, was a distant third in DeSoto where almost 22,000 people voted last Tuesday. Only Rankin County saw more people go to the polls in the Republican primary.

Waller faced two obstacles in DeSoto – a lack of name recognition and a lack of funds to do extensive advertising in the Memphis market, which is the most expensive in the state.

The Foster endorsement could help Waller assuage those obstacles for the runoff with Reeves on Aug. 27.

In central Mississippi, where Waller had previously run for office on the Mississippi Supreme Count, he won the heavily populated counties of Rankin, Hinds and Madison, essentially Jackson and many of its suburbs. Waller surprised Reeves winning Reeves’ home county of Rankin – the county with the most Republican voters – by a 45-42 percent margin. Waller won Madison and Hinds counties by larger margins.

Statewide, Reeves had nearly 49 percent of the vote or 182,979 in unofficial returns compared to 33 percent for Waller. Reeves only lost eight counties – two to Foster and six to Waller.

On social media, Waller said of Foster, “He ran a strong campaign and he’s a true conservative who shares my beliefs about taking on the toughest challenges facing our state—instead of politics as usual.”

Generally speaking endorsements by losing candidates have not necessarily meant that much for a runoff. In the Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate in 2018, Meridian businessman Howard Sherman led the field with 32 percent to 31 percent for state Rep. David Baria of Bay St. Louis. State Rep. Omeria Scott of Laurel, who placed third, endorsed Sherman, who lost to Baria in the runoff.

But in 2003, in his first campaign, Reeves garnered just under the majority needed to avoid a runoff in his campaign for treasurer. Third place finisher then-state Rep. Andrew Ketchings of Natchez, endorsed Reeves, who went on to win the runoff.

Both Waller and Reeves have been busy trying to garner Foster’s endorsement since the first primary.

The day after the primary, Reeves went out of his way to praise Foster during a news conference.

“Robert worked his tail off and Robert had some good ideas in the campaign…,” Reeves said. “Robert and I worked together on various pieces of legislature over the past four years. I will just tell you he ran a fantastic campaign, and he earned every single vote he received.”

In general Waller had his best showing in the state’s larger counties except for DeSoto and the Gulf Coast counties.

Normally, fewer people return to the polls for runoff elections, though, that was not the case for the 2014 Republican runoff for the U.S. Senate between incumbent Thad Cochran and state Sen. Chris McDaniel. In that election 382,197 voted in the runoff – or almost 63,000 more than voted in the first primary.