Tate Reeves defeats Jim Hood, secures Republican sweep of statewide offices

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Eric J. Shelton/Mississippi Today, Report For America

Tate Reeves speaks at the Westin after winning the governor election Tuesday, November 5, 2019.

Republican Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves defeated Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood in the governor’s race on Tuesday, securing a Republican sweep of all eight statewide offices. 

The crowd chanted, “Tate! Tate! Tate!” as the next governor took the stage to give his victory speech. Reeves asked the crowd to applaud Hood for his “commitment to serve in public office, forgoing what would otherwise have been a lucrative career in private practice.” He focused much of his speech on thanking his family for their support.

Reeves, 45, spent his campaign focusing on conservative values and attacking Hood as a liberal. That refrain continued as he thanked about 200 supporters gathered at the Westin in downtown Jackson Tuesday night shortly after his victory was announced.

“You’ve worked hard because you believe Mississippi must be different,” Reeves told his supporters. “We must resist the leftward drift of our country. We must build a workforce for the jobs of the next 50 years. We must protect our culture that makes this a great place to raise a family. We must understand that you can govern as a conservative in Mississippi and still get elected.”

Perhaps sensing his pending defeat Tuesday night, Hood broke tradition and entered the ballroom before the election was called by the Associated Press and talked with supporters and posed with them for pictures for at least 30 minutes. Soon after the election was called, he got on stage and congratulated Reeves.

Once called the “Last Democrat in Dixie,” Hood’s tenure as the state’s only statewide Democratic official came to a halt when the four-term attorney general lost convincingly to Reeves.

In what was viewed as Mississippi’s first competitive election for governor since 2003, Reeves garnered 449,252 votes or 52.2 percent to 400,336 or 46.5 percent for Hood in unofficial totals that will increase slightly for each candidate in the coming days as the final votes are counted and the election is certified.

The election might have been decided in what Hood  fondly calls “the Hills,” his home area in northeast Mississippi. Hood won his home county of Chickasaw but few others in a region of the state that had been a bulwark in his previous four convincing wins for attorney general. In many northeast Mississippi counties he had won in past elections, he lost by substantial margins Tuesday.

According to preliminary results from the Associated Press, Reeves won handily in key Republican counties of Rankin, Harrison, Jackson and DeSoto, while Hood’s margins of victory in Democratic hotbeds like Hinds and several counties in the Mississippi Delta were not large enough to overcome Reeves’ performance.

Hood hoped to perform well in some key suburban counties that Bill Waller Jr. defeated Reeves in the August primary runoff. But Reeves held off Hood on Tuesday in Forrest and Lamar counties, and while Hood defeated Reeves in Madison, Lafayette and Oktibbeha counties, those margins of victory were too small to give Hood a more than 2,500 vote boost.

Reeves and Republicans long considered northeast Mississippi the battleground of the election.

“The good Lord allowed me to serve (as attorney general and district attorney) for 24 years,” Hood told a large crowd of several hundred supporters at a Jackson hotel ballroom. “It has been a good run.”

Hood said the stress” of holding and running for public office was over and he was going to contemplate “how I am going to make a living…I can tell you I am going to do a lot of hunting.”

Jim Hood, far right, with former Mississippi Attorney General Mike Moore at Hood’s election night watch party. Hood, the current attorney general and Democratic nominee for governor, was unsuccessful in his bid to become the first Democratic governor in Mississippi since 2003.

For his part, Reeves promised to represent “all the people of Mississippi.” He specifically mentioned increasing teacher salaries.

“We only have one governor, and that one governor must serve one people — that means all the people of Mississippi,” Reeves said. “Our state is in excellent financial shape. We’ve made tough financial decisions to get us here. Those decisions were not always popular, but the right thing often is not popular. Now that our rainy-day fund is full and tax rates are lower and our economy is booming, we have an opportunity to make further investments in people, teachers and students across this great state, and that’s exactly what I’ll do.”

The Reeves win also solidified the first-ever sweep of all eight statewide offices for the Republican Party. During Reconstruction, Republicans who supported civil rights for African Americans and other progressive reforms largely controlled Mississippi government. When Reconstruction ended and federal troops withdrew from the South, white Democrats rose to power and ushered in the Jim Crow era.

All seven Republicans running in contested general elections on Tuesday defeated their Democratic counterparts, and the eighth ran unopposed. In all the down ticket races, the Democrat garnered about 40 percent of the vote.

The GOP candidates got a boost from Republican President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence within the past week. Trump held a raucous rally in Tupelo for Reeves five days before the election. Whether that changed the dynamics in Hood’s home area is not clear, but it is certain that the Trump visit did not hurt Reeves in what was believed to be the key battleground region.

With Hood’s loss, the state for the first time in the modern era will have no statewide elected Democrats. All the Democratic candidates faced much better funded Republican opponents. Hood was the only Democrat to raise a significant amount of campaign contributions, close to $6 million, but he was outspent by more than two to one by Reeves.

The attendees gathered at the Westin on Tuesday remained loud and jovial for more than an hour after the race was called and after Reeves left the room.

“This is a great night for Republicans,” said Lucien Smith, chairman of the Mississippi Republican Party.