The reason the decision was made for President Donald Trump to come to Tupelo instead of other areas of the state – some more populous – to campaign for Republican Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves in his bid to win the governor’s election this year can be ascertained by looking at the House districts won in 2015 by the Democrat in the race – Attorney General Jim Hood.
In winning his fourth term as attorney general in 2015 against Republican Mike Hurst, Hood won nine Republican-controlled districts located less than an hour from the BancorpSouth Arena where Trump will give his full-throated support for Reeves in a speech that will be carried live on television in northeast Mississippi.
If Hood repeats that feat on Tuesday against Reeves, there is a good chance he will win the most votes in the election for governor. Of course to be elected governor under the state Constitution, candidates for statewide office must win not only a majority of the vote, but also win the most votes in a majority of the 122 House districts. If no candidate achieves both thresholds, the House decides between the top two vote-getters. The provisions, holdovers from the state’s 1890s’ Jim Crow-era Constitution, were designed to prevent blacks, then a majority in the state, from holding statewide office.
In 2015 against Hurst, now the US. attorney for the Southern District of Mississippi, Hood won 55.4 percent of the vote and 66 House districts, including the nine districts currently held by Republican House members near Tupelo. Those House members are Nick Bain of Corinth; Jody Steverson of Ripley, William Tracy Arnold of Booneville; Steve Massengill of Hickory Flat; Margaret Rogers of New Albany; Mac Huddleston of Pontotoc; Randy Bell of Fulton, Chris Brown of Aberdeen and Jim Beckett of Bruce. Not too far farther west of Tupelo, Hood also won the district of Nolan Mettetal of Sardis and to the south of Tupelo he won the district of Joey Hood of Ackerman.
Hood also won the districts of nine other Republicans across the state. Those include Bill Denny of Jackson and two on the edges of the Delta – Jason White of West and Karl Oliver of Winona. The Republican districts he won in south Mississippi currently are occupied by Randall Patterson of Biloxi; Missy McGee of Hattiesburg; Noah Sanford of Collins; Shane Barnett of Waynesboro; Mark Tullos of Raleigh; Vince Mangold of Brookhaven.
In addition Hood won all 46 districts currently held by Democrats.
Of the 20 districts held by Republican House members won by Hood, he garnered less than 55 percent of the vote in 18.
Trump’s visit presumably can accomplish two goals for Reeves – help him to garner votes in an attempt to win a majority of the popular vote, but also reduce the number of Republican-held House districts Hood wins in northeast Mississippi.
Reeves has refused to say he will not challenge the election in the House should he lose the popular vote. Should he lose the popular vote, his path to victory in what is likely to be a House with an overwhelming Republican majority would be to convince Republican House members to vote as their constituents in their district voted instead of how the state as a whole voted.
According to Jonathan Rodden, a political science instructor and the director of the Stanford Spatial Social Science Lab, Hood needs to win the popular vote by around 55 percent Tuesday against Reeves to guarantee the election is not thrown into the Republican-controlled House.
Rodden’s analysis is part of a federal lawsuit filed in the Southern District of Mississippi. His same analysis concluded Reeves could win a majority of the House districts with about 47 percent of the vote because of the gerrymandered configuration of the districts.
Rodden, who studies census and polling data, further stated that had Hood’s margin of victory been 2 percent less in 2015 against Hurst, he most likely would have not won a majority of the House districts, thus throwing the election to the House members to decide.
Mississippi is the only state that requires candidates for statewide office to win a majority of the popular vote and the most votes in a majority of the House districts or electoral votes.
The popular vote and vote in the House districts will be a factor as Trump speaks in Tupelo Friday night.
Reporter Alex Rozier contributed to this report.