Tate Reeves spends big in final days before Republican governor’s runoff against Bill Waller

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Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves faces Bill Waller Jr., the former chief justice of the Mississippi Supreme Court, in an Aug. 27 runoff.

Editor’s note: This story has been edited to clarify a $426,000 payment the Reeves campaign made to a consulting firm. Our reporting was based on the Aug. 20 Reeves campaign finance report that listed the payment to Right Way Strategies LLC, a political consulting company owned by state Sen. Chris McDaniel’s longtime advisers. On the report, the Reeves campaign also listed the firm’s Jones County address.

After the story published, the Reeves campaign reached out to clarify that the payment was actually made to Right Way Strategies Inc., owned by longtime Reeves political consultant Justin Brasell. Representatives from the Reeves campaign, Right Way Strategies LLC, and Right Way Strategies Inc. confirmed to Mississippi Today that the finance report was mislabeled.

Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, since the Aug. 6 Republican primary for governor, has spent at least $729,000 on advertising ahead of the runoff against Bill Waller Jr., the former chief justice of the Mississippi Supreme Court.

Between July 28 and Aug. 17, Reeves spent $1.9 million in total, including $1.2 million with Maryland-based On Message Inc., the media consulting group Reeves has used since 2003.

At least $729,000 of those payments to On Message Inc. was spent after the Aug. 6 primary, according to campaign finance reports filed Tuesday with the Secretary of State’s office.

Reeves also spent $445,595 with his media consultant on the single day of July 29, presumably for television advertising buys just before the Aug. 6 primary.

In the primary, Reeves garnered almost 49 percent of the vote compared to 33 percent for Waller. State Rep. Robert Foster of DeSoto County — who has since endorsed Waller — received 18 percent. Because no candidate received more than 50 percent of the vote, Reeves and Waller, the top two vote-getters, square off in an Aug. 27 runoff.

In all this year, Reeves has raised $7.48 million and has spent $6.2 million in his effort to secure the Republican nomination and face Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood in the November general election for the Governor’s Mansion. Current Gov. Phil Bryant, who has endorsed Reeves, is term-limited.

Waller, by contrast, has spent $1.42 million this entire year – about $500,000 less than Reeves’ expenditures between July 28 and Aug. 17.

Between July 28 and Aug. 17, Waller raised $548,023. While Reeves has greatly outraised and outspent Waller, Reeves raised about $200,000 less than Waller.

The Waller campaign missed Tuesday’s 5 p.m. deadline to deliver the report to the Secretary of State’s office, meaning it was not publicly available on Tuesday night. A Waller campaign spokesman, who provided the campaign’s fundraising numbers to Mississippi Today, said the report was delivered a few minutes after 5 p.m.

Waller and Reeves will get a big opportunity to garner free advertising on Wednesday night when Jackson-based WJTV hosts the only gubernatorial debate before the runoff.

The 30-minute debate will be televised across the state beginning at 7 p.m., when Reeves and Waller will sit down with WJTV anchor Byron Brown. The public will not be allowed to attend.

The debate will be broadcast live on all Mississippi Public Radio stations, WJTV (CBS) in Jackson, WHLT (CBS) in Hattiesburg, WXXV (FOX/NBC) in Gulfport, WMDN (CBS) in Meridian and WBRL (CW) in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

On the day Reeves’ reports showed big spending ahead of the runoff, a group of Republican elected officials gathered at the Republican Party headquarters in downtown Jackson to discuss their support of Reeves.

The group included Bryant, former Gov. Haley Barbour, insurance commissioner Mike Chaney, agriculture and commerce commissioner Andy Gipson and several legislators.

“This election is about policy. This is about issues,” Barbour, who has donated several thousand dollars to Reeves’ campaign this year, said on Tuesday. “This is about matters that affect government in Mississippi and affects all the people in Mississippi. Don’t let anybody steer you off in any other direction.”