Incumbent Republican Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann defeated state Sen. Chris McDaniel and another Republican challenger in Tuesday’s GOP primary.
Now facing only a little-known political newcomer in November’s general election, Hosemann in his victory speech late Tuesday night recounted numerous accomplishments and was looking forward to four more years running the state Senate.
“We want to build a state where our children and grandchildren want to stay and live,” Hosemann said. “… We are in in the best financial shape we’ve ever been in the state’s history. We are going to tackle so many of our state’s issues and we are going to solve so many of our state’s problems.”
Hosemann said he was trying to “temper” remarks about his opponent McDaniel and what became a nasty race in the homestretch. He also vowed to push for serious campaign finance reform, after he filed several claims McDaniel and related PACs violated state laws.
“When you have this much dark money pumped into a race — almost $1 million in the last week — it screams for reform,” Hosemann said. He also chided social media trolls who leveled attacks against him and supporters in recent weeks.
“Some of these people on social media, they spew venom at people they don’t even know,” Hosemann said. “When you wake up and look at yourself in the mirror, what have you done positive for Mississippi? I think the answer is nothing.”
Hosemann, 76, earned about 52% of the Republican primary vote on Tuesday, avoiding a runoff with McDaniel and assuring his spot on the November general election ballot. McDaniel received about 43% of the vote, and lesser-known candidate Tiffany Longino garnered about 5%.
Hosemann in November will face Democrat Ryan Grover, a political newcomer who ran unopposed in his party primary on Tuesday.
McDaniel, who in 2014 refused to concede after losing to former U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran in the Republican primary, conceded late Tuesday night at an election night party in Biloxi.
“While the road to get here has been tough, I am forever grateful for the hard work of my grassroots supports who built this campaign from the ground up,” McDaniel said. “Tonight, it’s clear Delbert Hosemann heard you, and I know grassroots patriots will continue to encourage him to fight for Mississippi values and our conservatives principles.”
The four-term state senator also acknowledged to Mississippi Today that a lack of campaign dollars likely played a significant role in his Tuesday night loss, given Hosemann spent significantly more money on the race.
“Unfortunately, the money remains a difficult impediment,” McDaniel said. “We all know the rules. Whoever raises the most money has the best chance of winning.”
Hosemann, as a well-known Republican incumbent who had served two terms as secretary of state, by most accounts wasn’t expecting such a hard contest for reelection. But McDaniel, who has developed a loyal base of largely the malcontented far-right, started his campaign against “Delbert the Democrat” more than a year ago and appeared to be gaining ground. McDaniel has used this tactic in his previous unsuccessful runs for higher office — claiming he’s a real conservative and the Republicans he’s attempting to oust are not.
As with his past bids for higher office, McDaniel supporters launched mud slinging and trolling social media attacks against Hosemann and his supporters, including a faked endorsement of Hosemann by Black Lives Matter aimed at turning off white voters in north Mississippi. McDaniel, as he has done in the past, denied complicity in such attacks.
It didn’t help that Hosemann didn’t receive support from his fellow Republican Gov. Tate Reeves, with whom he’s often clashed over policy. Reeves at one point in the primary campaign season appeared to give a tacit endorsement of McDaniel. Should Reeves be reelected governor, this portends more clashes down the road as he tries to get a Hosemann-led Senate to help enact his policy proposals.
Hosemann countered by pointing to McDaniel’s ineffectual record over his four terms as a state senator. McDaniel, although a firebrand when giving a political stump speech, has long been known by fellow senators for his frequent absences from Senate proceedings and lack of work when it comes to legislating. He’s also usually clashed with Senate leadership and his fellow Republicans, and 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.
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.
McDaniel for this campaign struggled to raise campaign money from people and businesses inside Mississippi, but he managed to get substantial help primarily from D.C. Beltway, secretly sourced dark money funneled through PACs. All told, about $1.4 million in out-of-state dark money was pumped into McDaniel’s campaign, a PAC he created and another than ran ads attacking Hosemann — a notable record for a down-ticket Mississippi state office race.
From the start, Hosemann accused McDaniel of major campaign finance law violations and filed complaints with Attorney General Lynn Fitch’s office. Fitch for months appeared to ignore these complaints, but just days before Tuesday’s primary, she announced her office was investigating a state PAC created by McDaniel’s campaign treasurer and some of the complaints Hosemann raised.
The race highlighted Mississippi’s weak campaign finance laws and nearly nonexistent enforcement and brought calls for reform, including from Hosemann and Republican Secretary of State Michael Watson.