Supporters of Republican candidate for lieutenant governor State Sen. Chris McDaniel wave their signs at the Neshoba County Fair in Philadelphia, Miss., Wednesday, July 26, 2023. McDaniel faces incumbent Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann and another opponent for the nomination in the party primary Aug. 8. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

NESHOBA COUNTY FAIR — Incumbent Republican Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann and his main primary opponent state Sen. Chris McDaniel had little nice to say about each other in their Neshoba County Fair stump speeches Wednesday, as their large crowds of campaign T-shirt-clad supporters cheered and booed.

McDaniel, as he did with Republican opponents in his past failed bids for U.S. Senate, continued his attack on Hosemann as not conservative enough, or a RINO — Republican-in-name-only. His speech rehashed lines from previous speeches during U.S. Senate runs and focused more on national partisan themes than state legislative issues.

“My opponent has moved us to the left,” McDaniel said. “He’s helping those people … He’s done absolutely nothing, nothing to push back against Joe Biden, the most incompetent and corrupt president in our history … (Democrats) are here to tear down our foundations … Everything they touch fails … Why would you ever reach across the aisle with these people? Why would you ever compromise with these people?”

Hosemann opened by listing accomplishments of his first term, including the largest teacher pay raise in state history; the largest income tax cut in state history; paying down state debt; and unprecedented spending on infrastructure. Then, he fired back at McDaniel.

Hosemann, who as lieutenant governor oversees the state Senate where McDaniel serves, reiterated a knock on McDaniel other opponents have used: that he has been ineffectual as a senator for four terms and is frequently absent from Senate proceedings and votes.

“I appointed him as chairman of the Environmental Protection, Conservation and Water Resources Committee,” Hosemann said. “… You know what? He didn’t hold one hearing. He didn’t pass one bill. He doesn’t work at all. He doesn’t show up for work.”

Hosemann called McDaniel “despicable” and asked voters in the crowd to “get rid of him on August 8.”

McDaniel reiterated another accusation his campaign has made against Hosemann, that he helped run a Jackson abortion clinic.

“It’s an objective, verifiable fact that from 1976 to 1990 he was vice president of an abortion clinic,” McDaniel said.

Hosemann, who has been endorsed by the national and Mississippi chapters of Right to Life, reiterated his defense — that as a young lawyer he did legal work to help a women’s clinic get started, but that work ended in 1981 before the clinic ever did abortions. A doctor who directed the clinic has corroborated Hosemann’s explanation.

Hosemann, under attack from McDaniel’s campaign as “Delbert the Democrat,” continued to list his conservative GOP bona fides Wednesday.

“I was a (Ronald Reagan) guy. My opponent was 9 years old when I first ran as a Republican,” Hosemann said. “My opponent voted in the Democratic primary in 2003.”

After Hosemann spoke at the pavilion in Founder’s Square on Wednesday, McDaniel waited backstage trying to corner him and again challenge Hosemann to a debate. But Hosemann, surrounded by staff, supporters and media, bypassed McDaniel and went to a nearby cabin to have a brief press conference. He has declined McDaniel’s requests for a debate ahead of the Aug. 8 primary.

Before either of the frontrunners spoke Wednesday, little-known Republican lieutenant governor candidate Tiffany Longino of Brandon spoke, saying the state must focus on education, economic development and improving health care.

Both Hosemann and McDaniel had large crowds of enthusiastic supporters packing the pavilion during Wednesday’s stumping.

McDaniel supporter S. Ross Aldridge of Rankin County said: “I support him because of his true conservatism and belief in the original intent of our Constitution and the 10th Amendment — power and sovereignty of the states … I don’t appreciate RINOs.”

Hosemann supporter Margie Morken of Pass Christian said: “Delbert has already proven himself to me, and I want more of the same leadership he’s shown. He’s been getting things done.”

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Geoff Pender serves as senior political reporter, working closely with Mississippi Today leadership on editorial strategy and investigations. Pender brings 30 years of political and government reporting experience to Mississippi Today. He was political and investigative editor at the Clarion Ledger, where he also penned a popular political column. He previously served as an investigative reporter and political editor at the Sun Herald, where he was a member of the Pulitzer Prize-winning team for Hurricane Katrina coverage. Originally from Florence, Mississippi, Pender is a journalism graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi and has received numerous awards throughout his career for reporting, columns and freedom of information efforts.