Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves defeated former chief justice Bill Waller Jr. in a Republican runoff for governor on Tuesday, setting up a November general election bout with Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood.
Reeves, who spent the three-week runoff campaign blasting Waller for what Reeves called “liberal” values, greeted voters at his watch party at the Westin hotel in downtown Jackson to chants of “Tate! Tate! Tate!”
Reeves’ mother, Dianne Peeples, was the first at the watch party to notice that the race had been called for her son, letting out a cheer that was quickly echoed by the 100 or so supporters gathered at the event.
Reeves won the runoff Tuesday on the backs of a strong showing on the Gulf Coast and rural counties across the state. Waller’s strength in the Jackson metro area, including in Reeves’ home county, Rankin, could not offset Reeves’ surge across at least 65 of Mississippi’s 82 counties.
“What I want to say to you is this: I heard you, and I’m determined to bring this party together to win in November. Now if you believe we need to fix our roads and keep our economy strong, hear me out. If you believe we need to raise teacher pay and balance our budget, come with me. If you think we need to save our hospitals the conservative way, let’s do it together,” Reeves told his crowd.
Continuing: “Tomorrow or maybe even later tonight, Jim Hood is going to ask you to turn back the clock… Jim Hood will tell you that welfare and Washington are the only things we need to make everybody happy. We, on the other hand, will argue that freedom, opportunity, hard work and traditional Mississippi values are truths that will keep us headed in the right direction.”
Reeves and Waller worked to define conservatism in different ways, at times criticizing their opponent’s policy proposals or personality. Reeves staked his candidacy on his conservative values.
Reeves drew the line on Waller’s platforms of expanding Medicaid and increasing the state’s fuel tax, likening Waller to national Democrats like Nancy Pelosi, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
Waller, flanked by his wife, Charlotte, told an enthusiastic crowd that he brought up issues that he believes are important to the state.
“We ran a campaign we can be proud of,” he said from his campaign headquarters about 30 minutes after the election was called. “We ran on issues. We did not sugarcoat it. We did not tell people what they wanted to hear. We told them what the state needed.”
Waller announced late last year he was stepping down from his post as the chief justice of the Mississippi Supreme Court. But he did not announce his intention to run for governor until late February. Many believed by then, it would be too late to wage a serious challenge to Reeves, who had been planning his campaign for years.
But Waller ran a spirited campaign, forcing a runoff by campaigning on moving teacher pay to the Southeastern average, improving roads and bridges and expanding Medicaid to cover primarily the working poor.
“I think we have elevated some issues we have in this state,” said Waller, whose father served as governor in the early 1970s.
Noticeably, Waller did not endorse Reeves.
“There were some misrepresentations of my positions,” he said. “That is not going to be taken lightly. I am going to meet with my supporters and decide what we need to do.”
Waller said a campaign had to have “some standards” and that “I think we tried to do that.”
During the primary, Reeves opted to criticize Waller’s platforms and his politics rather than offer up many specific policy solutions for the state.
Reeves moves on to the November general election, when he will face Hood, the four-time statewide election winner who is widely considered the Democratic Party’s best shot at the Governor’s Mansion in at least 16 years.
Hood shares many of the same ideas as Waller, and Reeves has forecast this year a similar general election strategy: Lob red-meat attacks and pair his opponent with national Democrats.
Hood, who won the Democratic nomination on Aug. 6, was at his Jackson campaign headquarters late Tuesday after the Republican runoff was called for Reeves.
Seeking to be the first Democratic governor since Ronnie Musgrove won in 1999, Hood praised Waller and said many of his supporters had indicated they would support him if Waller lost.
“Justice Waller ran a good campaign talking about the issues. I am proud of the campaign he ran – as a gentleman lawyer.
“…Tate Reeves on the other hand ran a negative campaign. He threw around labels he knew were not true. The reason he does that is he does not have issues to run on. He has spent the past eight years taking care of his corporate cronies,” Hood told Mississippi Today.
Hood reiterated his priority issues – many matching the positions touted by Waller.
Hood has been critical of the multiple tax cuts passed during the last eight years under Reeves’ leadership as the presiding officer of the Senate – taking more than $750 million annually out of state general fund revenue.
Also of note: State Treasurer Lynn Fitch defeated Andy Taggart for the Republican nomination for attorney general. Fitch faces Jennifer Riley-Collins, the former director of the Mississippi ACLU.