You may have seen her walking in slow motion on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court building in a hype video for what could be one of America’s most consequential legal hearings.
You may have read her Washington Post op-ed about how the Supreme Court in 1973 “pitted women against our children, and woman against woman.”
You may have heard her podcasts with right-wing media outlets about the background of the case and how she has long fought for “the sanctity of life.”
Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch knows that this is her time to shine. And she’s working hard and spending taxpayer money to enlighten a whole new political constituency.
Fitch is leading Mississippi’s defense against the Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which sued the state in 2018 after lawmakers passed what was, at the time, the nation’s strictest abortion ban.
The nation’s high court will hear oral arguments in the case on Dec. 1, when Fitch’s hand-picked solicitor general will lead the defense. Fitch will be in the courtroom. Scholars believe the case, which Fitch inherited from Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood, will allow the conservative-majority U.S. Supreme Court to overturn its Roe v. Wade decision, the nation’s long-standing legal precedent that guarantees women the right to obtain an abortion.
Several advisers and others close with Fitch have told her that a favorable SCOTUS decision could catapult her political career, setting her up for a run for higher office. Some of those advisers have specifically suggested she consider running for governor in 2023 against fellow Republican Gov. Tate Reeves, who some see as vulnerable after his questionable handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Future political office aside, Fitch has taken clear steps to build her profile on this gargantuan stage.
Since Fitch took office in January 2020, she has fired two communications directors — staffers typically hired to help shape the external image of an elected official.
But in June 2021, about three weeks after the Supreme Court announced they would hear the Mississippi case, Fitch replaced her in-house communications staffers with two out-of-state media consultants with national Republican political experience.
First, Fitch hired Debbee Keller Hancock of Birmingham, Ala., who will “provide assistance in developing messaging, drafting written and graphic materials, working with reporters and others, and performing other duties as assigned for AGO litigation.” Hancock’s contract began on June 7, 2021 and runs through June 30, 2022. Hancock will be paid a fee not to exceed $5,000 per month and not to exceed a total of $60,000. The fees come directly from the attorney general’s office budget — funded by taxpayers.
A few days later, Fitch hired Becky Rogness of Alexandria, Va., for the exact same stated purpose. Rogness’ contract began on June 17, 2021, and runs through June 30, 2022. Payments to Rogness are not to exceed $4,000 per month or a total of $48,000. Those funds, like Hancock’s, are taxpayer money.
Hancock and Rogness quickly got to work. Fitch has appeared in several right-wing national outlets like The Daily Signal. There, Fitch sat down with a journalist who praised Fitch for defending the case and working to overturn Roe and asked basic questions about the background of the case. Fitch also did an interview for a podcast called “Explicitly Pro-Life.”
Meanwhile, the only in-state interview Fitch has given in recent weeks is with Supertalk Mississippi, a statewide conservative talk radio show network. Since she took office, Fitch has remained off the grid and off limits to Mississippi reporters. Journalists working to get basic information from her office often reach out to Michelle Williams, her chief of staff, in order to receive any response whatsoever.
Before she was elected attorney general, Fitch previously served eight years as state treasurer, a tenure highlighted by the office forgetting to make a state debt payment for the first time in modern history, high turnover of staff, and Fitch garnering complaints of lavish spending on décor and furnishings for her office.
Fitch also became known for using her office and taxpayer money for advertising and promotions that at times appeared self-promotion for an ambitious politician. Such spending helped prompt an unsuccessful push by lawmakers to restrict taxpayer-funded advertising by elected officials.
In recent days, Fitch’s social media feeds have been busier than usual, mostly promoting the upcoming hearings. She has even advertised a “watch party” for the Dec. 1 oral arguments and Washington rally, encouraging people to visit the Attorney General’s Office state website and leave their email address, name and hometown.
One of Fitch’s biggest political climbs is name identification. In January 2021, the most recent public polling available, 33% of Mississippians approved of her job performance, 34% disapproved and 32% lacked sufficient information about her work. That latter figure is something she would need to address before considering higher office.
One sure-fire way to build name ID and give Mississippians sufficient information about your work: Make yourself the face of overturning Roe v. Wade.