August 2, 2018 10:39:54 AM
The men who are expected to face off next year in the Mississippi Governor's race shared a stage for the first time Wednesday.
The two -- Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and Attorney General Jim Hood -- were the main attractions on the first day of political speeches at the Neshoba County Fair, and it provided a glimpse of the campaign we'll see unfold over the next year or so.
Without question, this was a road game for Hood, the lone Democrat to hold state-wide office. The Neshoba County Fair has been the domain of Conservative Republicans since Ronald Reagan chose the event to kick off his presidential campaign in 1980, a event that signaled the end of the Yellow Dog Democrats in the state as conservatives switched to the GOP en masse.
Hood, whose popularity appears to transcend party affiliation (he and Gov. Phil Bryant consistently top popularity polls among state-wide office holders), hopes to take the focus off party preference and make the governor's election a forum on the failures of the current administration, especially the failures of Reeves, who has led the state senate for two terms now.
Reeves, meanwhile, seems likely to employ the same strategy used by Donald Trump, including attacks on the media and identity politics and hot-buttons topics that have virtually nothing to do with the governor's office.
You'll hear plenty about "liberal Democrats" and "the Hollywood Elite" and "Obama, Pelosi, Hillary and Bernie" from the Reeves camp. Reeves has already questioned why Hood hasn't said whether he supports Trump's nomination of Brett Kavanaugh for the U.S. Supreme Court, even though state officials don't participate in that decision. Might as well ask Hood his opinion on who should win America's Got Talent. It hold about the same relevance.
It's pretty clear that Hood will attack Reeves on Reeves' record while Tate will attack Hood on his political identity.
Both are pretty strong strategies.
Reeves is not a likable candidate. In fact, he is broadly loathed in Jackson, even among some Republican legislators. But he has a pile of money from big donors and is comfortable managing he levers of machine politics and, of course, enjoys the advantage of having that big ole "R" behind his name.
If Mississippi voters toe the party line next November, it will put Reeves over the top.
Hood, meanwhile, has the advantage of running on Reeves' record and is counting on voter dissatisfaction with the big corporate tax cuts that have forced the state to slash state services across the board, starve public education and leave the state's roads/bridges in a state of dangerous disrepair.
With the Governor expected to call a special session as soon as today to address the road/bridge issue, Reeves may be less vulnerable, depending, of course, on whether the Legislature actually provides a workable solution to the road/bridge crisis.
But even that puts Reeves in a precarious position, politically.
You suspect Hood is loving the corner Reeves has been painted into on this subject. Reeves' main appeal to voters -- other than the fact that he is not a Democrat -- is that he's a tax-cutter. But if the road/bridge issue is to be addressed in a substantial way, it will almost certainly include tax increases of some sort and Reeves will be on the record in favor of those tax hikes.
Wednesday's speeches at the Neshoba County Fair could be considered the opening kickoff.
Given the nature and personality of both major candidates, it's going to be a rough-and-tumble game.
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]
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