Ahead of Tuesday’s tight governor’s race, both major party candidates for governor took extraordinary measures to garner votes just hours before polls opened.
A robocall on behalf of Hood was sent to voters across the state on Monday from President Barack Obama — a last-minute departure in Hood’s continued political strategy of eschewing of national endorsements from Democratic politicians.
The Obama press office confirmed that the former president made the robocall in an email on Tuesday morning.
“President Obama recorded a robocall for the Hood campaign,” Katie Hill, communications director for the Obama’s office, told Mississippi Today.
Hood, who calls himself a moderate Democrat, focused his campaign this year on state issues such as improving health care, education and infrastructure. Obama’s call focused on those issues.
“Jim Hood will expand Medicaid to cover 300,000 more people, and fight to keep Mississippi’s rural hospitals open — to raise teacher pay, and build an administration as diverse as Mississippi,” Obama said on the call.
Obama’s robocall was “paid for by friends of Jim Hood,” the end of the call said. Secretary of State records show no such committee listed.
The Hood campaign did not respond to several requests for comment after the call was published Monday night.
In fact, Hood has gone to great lengths this year to eschew what has characterized as party labels and counter attacks from Reeves and prominent Republicans seeking to pair him with Obama and other national Democrats. On Monday evening, conservative leaders used the robocall to accuse Hood of backtracking on that strategy.
“At the 11th hour Jim Hood had Barack Obama endorse him for Governor of Mississippi,” Gov. Phil Bryant tweeted along with a link to the robocall first published by conservative news website Y’all Politics. “Now we finally know what he really believes. Vote Republican tomorrow and end this once and for all.”
Obama recorded a similar phone call that was distributed on Monday in Louisiana on behalf of Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards, who faces a tough general election challenge later this month.
Also on Monday, public school teachers across the state received emails from Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, the Republican nominee for governor. Reeves sent the emails to their school-issued email addresses, outlining his education plan, including providing teacher pay raises. The email letters said they were paid for by Tate for Governor, Reeves’ main campaign committee.
Patrice Guilfoyle, a spokeswoman for the Mississippi Department of Education, confirmed that the Reeves campaign obtained the email addresses through a public records request.
Teachers in Lamar County, Rankin County, Ocean Springs, Brookhaven, Newton County and Tupelo received the letters, although social media reports indicate they also went to other districts. According to social media, many of the letters were blocked by spam.
Public educators and education advocacy groups have expressed frustration with Reeves, particularly this year. They were disappointed with the size of the public school teacher pay raise — $1,500 — passed during the 2019 legislative session during an election year.
Even after that salary increase, Mississippi teachers remain the lowest paid on average of any state in the nation. Some advocacy groups said earlier this year teachers across the state were mulling a strike or walk-out to protest the meager pay raise.
In addition, Reeves has been a vocal supporter of providing taxpayer funds for students to attend private schools. He led the effort to sneak an additional $2 million in an appropriations bill during the final days of the 2019 session to provide additional funds to allow special needs students to attend private schools.
“I believe the teachers on the front lines are in the best position to know what decisions would be best for our state, which is why I am committed to forming a Teacher Advisory Board that will directly advise me on issues like teacher shortages,” he wrote in the email.
Many schools prevent teachers from using their school district emails for political activity. And in 2016, then House Education Chair John Moore, R-Brandon, introduced legislation making it a crime, punishable by a $10,000 fine, for school personnel to use school property or equipment, such as email servers, for political purposes. The bill died in committee.
The legislative leadership also included language into an 11th-hour appropriations bill in 2016 prevent school superintendents from using public funds to pay for their membership in their professional organization that provides required continuing education courses. The move was generally viewed as punishment for educators supporting the Initiative 42 ballot initiative that was designed to place in the state Constitution an enhanced commitment to public education.
Reeves and Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, led that opposition.