JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Fourth-term Attorney General Jim Hood defeated seven lesser-known candidates Tuesday to grab the Democratic nomination for Mississippi governor. In the Republican gubernatorial primary, second-term Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves is heading to a runoff in three weeks with former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Bill Waller Jr.
Hood hopes to break the grip Republicans have held on the governorship for 24 of the past 28 years in the conservative Southern state.
"People are ready for change in Mississippi. Certainly, the working folks are," Hood told The Associated Press after he won.
Mississippi is one of only three states electing a governor this year. Louisiana and Kentucky are the others. Reeves is endorsed by Republican Gov. Phil Bryant, who is term-limited, and he raised millions more than any of his GOP rivals.
Reeves told supporters late Tuesday at a restaurant in the Jackson suburb of Flowood that he had to win a Republican primary runoff when he first ran for state treasurer in 2003.
"I am totally and completely confident that, number one, we are going to have a conservative as the Republican nominee for governor. I can tell you tonight that I am going to be the Republican nominee for governor of Mississippi," Reeves said. "And I can tell you tonight — we are going to beat Jim Hood in November."
Waller told supporters at his downtown Jackson campaign headquarters that the issues he discussed resonated with voters, including his push to spend more money on roads.
"The march has started, and we're going to be victorious Aug. 27," Waller said.
In addition to the Republican and Democratic nominees, the Nov. 5 ballot for governor will have a Constitution Party candidate, Bob Hickingbottom, and an independent candidate, David Singletary.
Hood said he wants to improve roads and education, reduce the state's 7% tax on groceries and work on "cleaning up the Legislature" by eliminating contracts that lawmakers have directed toward specific companies that hire big lobbying firms.
Adam Wells, 34, is a former teacher who's now an education consultant. At a precinct in Canton, Wells said he voted for Hood.
"I think he's the only shot the Democrats have to beat Tate Reeves," Wells said. "It will be very difficult to do that, and he's the only Democrat in the race to hold a statewide office."
Reeves has raised the most money of any candidate for Mississippi governor and has run on a record of cutting taxes and being socially and fiscally conservative.
Reeves largely ignored Waller and the other Republican in the race, first-term state Rep. Robert Foster. Instead, Reeves has focused on Hood, who has raised the most money among the eight Democratic seeking the nomination for governor.
Reeves said Hood will be a Chuck Schumer-Nancy Pelosi-Barack Obama-Hillary Clinton "liberal." Hood said voters should be wary when politicians use labels rather than talking about issues.
Reeves has portrayed Mississippi as being in good financial shape and said teachers have received raises each of the eight years he has been lieutenant governor. Critics, however, say a big chunk of the teacher pay increase has been through previously scheduled raises, and that Mississippi still lags far behind national and regional averages for teacher pay.
Waller and Foster said Mississippi's situation is not as rosy as Reeves portrays.
At a polling place in Picayune, Kathy Burke, 66, said Reeves' support of President Donald Trump was a key factor in her decision.
"I like what's happening and Reeves seems to be a staunch supporter of him," Burke said.
Reeves and other top Republicans have long opposed Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act, and Mississippi is among 14 states that have not chosen some sort of expansion plan. Waller and Foster both advocate a type of system Indiana used when Mike Pence was governor — seeking federal permission to let people purchase Medicaid coverage if they are considered working poor.
Waller and Foster also both say Reeves has done too little to find money to improve highways and bridges, even as Mississippi has been told that many bridges are structurally deficient.
Reeves opposes a gasoline tax increase. Waller and Foster both say they would support increasing the gas tax if the state also reduces or eliminates the state income tax. They say a gas tax is a user fee that also would be paid by out-of-state drivers who stop and fill up in Mississippi. After the state was forced to close hundreds of structurally deficient bridges in 2018, legislators met in special session and authorized the creation of a lottery to help pay for highways and bridges. Money has not started to come in, though, because lottery games won't begin until late this year.
Hood raised far more money than any of the other Democratic candidates for governor. He is currently the only Democrat holding statewide office in Mississippi, and he is seeking to become the state's first Democratic governor since Ronnie Musgrove was defeated in 2003 after serving a single term.
Hood says Mississippi needs to strengthen public education and improve highways and bridges. He also advocates expanding Medicaid, saying the state is losing billions of federal dollars. Hood says he personally opposes abortion, which has prompted criticism from some Democratic primary voters.
In other key races:
Three-term Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann easily beat little known Shane Quick of Lake Cormorant in the Republican primary. Hosemann will face Democratic state Rep. Jay Hughes in November. Hughes was unopposed.
Treasurer Lynn Fitch moved on to a Republican runoff, while longtime Republican activist Andy Taggart and state Rep. Mark Baker were closely bunched for second place. Fitch says she wants to fight opioids and human trafficking and protect vulnerable Mississippians from harm. Baker promises an activist agenda on hot-button topics such as immigration and religious freedom, while he also says he would eliminate contracts with outside lawyers that he has long criticized. Taggart notes his experience as chief of staff for former Gov. Kirk Fordice and says he's running to fight illegal drugs after one of his sons took his own life after struggling with drugs. The Republican nominee will face Jennifer Riley Collins, a military veteran and former director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi.
SECRETARY OF STATE
State Sen. Michael Watson beat southern district Public Service Commissioner Sam Britton for the Republican nomination in what was one of the most bitter races of the primary season, with the two frequently trading accusations. Watson wants the secretary of state to take over issuing driver's licenses and has proposed to start screening for noncitizens trying to register to vote. Britton proposed to expand the office's role in promoting economic growth.
Former Hattiesburg Mayor Johnny Dupree, the unsuccessful Democratic nominee for governor in 2011, cruised to victory over Lexington resident Maryra Hodges Hunt. DuPree proposes a no-excuses early voting period.
Investment manager and department store heir David McRae won the Republican nomination for Mississippi treasurer. The 38-year-old Ridgeland resident beat state Sen. Eugene Buck Clarke on Tuesday in McRae's second try for the office. McRae will face Addie Lee Green of Bolton, who was unopposed for the Democratic nomination, in the Nov. 5 general election. Current Treasurer Lynn Fitch, a Republican, is running for attorney general. McRae says that treasurer is a good office for him to use his investment experience. He has spent heavily from his own money, loaning his campaign nearly $1.7 million through the end of July.
PUBLIC SERVICE COMMISSIONER
Northern district Democrat Brandon Presley is unopposed. In the central district, Republicans voted for 2015 nominee Brent Bailey over Mississippi Development Authority employee Nic Lott. Central district Democrats will see a runoff between frequent candidate Dorothy "Dot" Benford and Jackson City Councilman De'Keither A. Stamps. In the southern district, former Ocean Springs Mayor Connie Moran beat Sugar Stallings of Biloxi for the Democratic nomination, while Pascagoula Mayor Dane Maxwell vanquished Kiln contractor Kelvin Schulz.
A five-way battle in the norther district resulted in former DeSoto County supervisor John Caldwell and Oxford defense consultant Geoffrey Yoste advancing to a runoff. The winner faces Democrat Joey Grist, who is unopposed. In the central district, state Sen. Willie Simmons defeated Edwards Mayor Marcus Wallace for the Democratic nod, while Brandon Mayor Butch Lee won the GOP nomination over Ricky Pennington Jr. of Vicksburg. In the southern district, incumbent Tom King was challenged in the Republican primary by former state Sen. Tony Smith and former Mississippi Department of Transportation employee Chad Toney. No Democrats qualified in the southern district.