Bill Waller Jr., who garnered 46 percent of the Republican primary vote in the party’s runoff for governor last week, said on Tuesday he will not endorse Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, the Republican Party nominee.
Top Republican Party officials worked the phones the past week, several people close to those officials and Waller told Mississippi Today, calling Waller and his allies in efforts to lock up Waller’s endorsement of Reeves and unify the GOP electorate ahead of an anticipated tough general election bout with Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood.
“No endorsement,” Waller said in a text message to Mississippi Today on Tuesday afternoon. “I am staying out of the general election.”
Reeves shifted his initial primary political strategy to spend the three-week runoff blasting Waller and his positions, likening the former chief justice in official campaign advertisements to national Democrats such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton.
As recently as the day of the Aug. 27 runoff, the Reeves campaign aired television advertisements across the state slamming Waller as a liberal and someone who “would fold to what (liberals) want to do.”
Later that night when the runoff was called for Reeves, the lieutenant governor faced cameras and supporters at his watch party in downtown Jackson and spoke of Waller with respect.
“I would like to say a word of congratulations to Justice Bill Waller,” Reeves said from the stage on Aug. 27. “He was a worthy opponent and he has earned our congratulations on a race well run. Let’s give Bill a hand.”
Reeves continued: “I have always respected Judge Waller, Miss Charlotte Waller, and their entire family. I respect everyone who voted for him today. A lot of good people voted for him today. 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.”
The Reeves campaign did not immediately respond Tuesday afternoon to Mississippi Today’s request for comment.
Reeves’ chief challenge ahead of the November general election is unifying the party after the bitter primary. Several prominent leaders of the Republican Party sided with Waller over Reeves in the primary, tossing around personal insults of Reeves and criticizing his leadership style.
Hood, who is regarded by political operatives on both sides of the aisle as the Democratic Party’s best shot at the Governor’s Mansion in at least 16 years, has courted several of those Republicans the past few days after Reeves cemented the GOP nomination.
The day after the GOP runoff, Hood said of Waller: “Certainly, I would love to see him endorse me. He did not endorse Tate Reeves, and I suspect he will not do that and I don’t blame him. Tate Reeves was just throwing out labels, knowing full well that Judge Waller wasn’t any liberal. I don’t blame Judge Waller for not endorsing him. I think a lot of Judge Waller’s voters will come over to us and support us this fall.”
Waller defeated Reeves in several suburban areas, including Hinds, Rankin and Madison counties, as well as counties that include the populated cities of Hattiesburg, Tupelo, Oxford and Starkville.
Reeves won the election on the backs of rural Mississippians and residents of the Gulf Coast. He won 71 percent of the Republican votes in Jackson County, 69 percent in Hancock County and 66 percent in Harrison County.
Hood is spending Tuesday and Wednesday on the Gulf Coast to announce his plans to study the economic effects of the decision by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to open the Bonnet Carre Spillway into the Mississippi Sound earlier this year. The seafood industry, in particular, has taken a deep financial hit over the fresh water entering the salt waters.
Hood has also underscored his role in garnering the $2.4 billion settlement with British Petroleum after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
State Rep. Robert Foster, who earned 18 percent of the vote in the Aug. 6 Republican primary, said last week he would endorse Reeves.
“I am a Conservative Republican, Jim Hood has never been an option for me,” Foster wrote on Facebook. “I will be supporting the Republican nominee for Governor in November.”
Contributing: Bobby Harrison