Incumbent Republican Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann is crying foul over a flyer he says was disseminated by opponent Chris McDaniel’s campaign that purported to show Hosemann was endorsed by Black Lives Matter.
The move appears to be aimed at white Republican voters in the Aug. 8 GOP primary in a key battleground area: DeSoto County and the Mississippi suburbs of Memphis. Hosemann said it’s “typical of my opponent’s campaign style.” McDaniel’s previous unsuccessful statewide campaigns have been marred by his supporters’ dirty tricks — which at times required law enforcement to get involved and resulted in felony convictions and a jail sentence for one.
Black Lives Matter is a movement which launched a decade ago in response to the 2013 acquittal of George Zimmerman, who fatally shot Trayvon Martin, a Black teenager. BLM activists have staged protests nationwide to advocate for defunding police and supporting Black people and communities facing police brutality and unjust interactions with the criminal justice system. The movement has drawn ire from Republicans, who frequently try to discredit BLM ideology and have referred to it as “Marxist.”
McDaniel’s campaign claims it has been trying to verify whether the BLM endorsement is real and “has intentionally not distributed claims we have not directly confirmed that could invoke undue harm to our fellow Republicans.”
But one of his regional campaign chairs posted the flyer on Facebook, as did a state senator who has served as a surrogate for McDaniel on the campaign trail. They have both since deleted their social media posts of the flyer, but it appears to have been widely distributed by McDaniel supporters.
The flyer appears to be computer printed, with a Black power fist BLM logo, and a Memphis address at the bottom for an office suite that is currently a hair salon. Mississippi Today’s calls to the salon, as well as numerous calls and messages to various Memphis BLM groups listed online, were not returned as of this article’s publishing. It does not appear any BLM-affiliated group has publicly endorsed any Mississippi candidates in 2023 elections, and efforts by McDaniel’s and Hosemann’s campaigns to prove or disprove the endorsements have so far proved fruitless.
The flyer lists 19 candidates for DeSoto and Tate counties local elections, as well as Democratic gubernatorial candidate Brandon Presley and Hosemann for lieutenant governor.
Hosemann issued a brief statement about the flyer: “This is totally false and a gutless political stunt that is typical of my opponent’s campaign style.”
McDaniel would not comment on the record about the flyer. But campaign spokeswoman Nicole Tardif issued a statement: “Our internal communications surrounding the flyer distributed in DeSoto have been limited to determining its validity. While ‘Delbert the Democrat’ has spent his career taking cheap shots to score political points wherever he sees fit, our team has intentionally not distributed claims we have not directly confirmed that could invoke undue harm to our fellow Republicans.”
But Donnie Abernathy, whom Tardif identified as a regional chair for the McDaniel campaign, posted the flyer on Facebook, as did state Sen. Kathy Chism, R-New Albany, one of McDaniel’s closest allies in the state Senate. Chism has served as a surrogate for McDaniel on the campaign trail, including at a recent event where she championed the return of Mississippi’s former state flag with the racially incendiary Confederate battle emblem in one corner.
Both Abernathy and Chism removed their Facebook posts of the flyer on Wednesday.
Abernathy did not return calls for comment, but in a post about taking it down noted that he received a copy of it from the McDaniel campaign.
“Because the BLM endorsement list was causing so much turmoil, I did decided (sic) to take it down until it can be verified as legit,” Abernathy wrote. “I did receive the screen shot directly from the campaign, but so many people were questioning the legitimacy of the document.”
Chism in a texted response said: “No it did not come from McDaniel Campaign. I found it online.”
Hosemann is not the only candidate angered by the flyer. Republican DeSoto sheriff’s candidate Thomas Tuggle also was listed as being endorsed. Tuggle, who is Black, is a retired Marine and former lieutenant colonel in the Mississippi Highway Patrol who said his campaign “has not and never will be associated with any group that publicly supports defunding the police.”
In a social media post about the flyer, Tuggle said: “I was recently informed of a fake document circulating implying that BLM is endorsing my candidacy. Being that the document’s address is a hair salon, I would find this laughable, but protecting the citizens of this county is no laughing matter … If you have attended our Meet and Greets, you know how fiery I am regarding anti-patriotic and anti-law enforcement groups.
“If the person behind this would spend as much time developing innovative ways to protect our citizens as they put into this amateurish document, we could possibly be a step ahead of the criminal element.”
McDaniel, a four-term state senator from Ellisville, in his unsuccessful bids for U.S. Senate has accused his Republican opponents of being too liberal, or even being Democrats in thin disguises, as he is now doing with Hosemann. He has often been at odds with the state Republican Party proper. As a senator, he has also clashed with the Senate Republican leadership including Hosemann and now-Gov. Tate Reeves, with similar claims they are too liberal.
McDaniel’s fighting with fellow Republicans and the Senate leadership over his long tenure in office has prevented his effectiveness in getting legislation passed. As opponents have noted during this election cycle, McDaniel since 2014 has authored only three bills that passed into law: one recognizing a football team, another congratulating a pageant winner and another declaring a West Nile prevention week.
Hosemann has complaints pending against McDaniel with the state attorney general’s office for what he claims are numerous, flagrant violations of state campaign finance law by McDaniel’s campaign and a now-shuttered PAC he ran. But Mississippi’s campaign finance laws are seldom enforced, and Attorney General Lynn Fitch has not indicated interest in investigating such complaints or enforcing those laws.