A never-ending political season

By CHARLES DUNAGIN,

There may be a  respite from Mississippi politics after the Nov. 27 runoff between Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith and Mike Espy, but it won’t last long.

Already there is speculation on who will run and win the 2019 statewide political offices in Mississippi, especially governor. At least one candidate for lieutenant governor, State Rep. Jay Hughes of Oxford, has been openly campaigning for months.

Next year’s primaries and general election are for officials from the county beat level to the state Capitol, but it is the governor’s race that usually draws the most attention. That wasn’t the case in 2015 when the incumbent, Republican Gov. Phil Bryant had only token opposition.

But next year will be different.

Attorney General Jim Hood, the only statewide elected Democrat, is running for governor and is presumed to have a lock on the Democratic nomination, barring some weird scenario where a viable candidate in the African-American community jumps into the race and takes most of the black votes away from Hood.

That appears unlikely.

On the Republican side, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves has been the presumed front-runner, both in the Republican primary and the general election, for the past eight years.

With loads of campaign money and a history of winning statewide elections — first as state treasurer and then twice as lieutenant governor — conventional wisdom has been Reeves would continue Republican occupancy of the Governor’s Mansion  after 16 years of Haley Barbour and Phil Bryant.

But some are beginning to see some cracks in the armor of the presumed successor.

Reeves is rumored to be personally disliked by some in his own party who say he has an abrasive and dictatorial style in controlling the state Senate.

There’s the possibility  someone may seriously challenge him in the Republican primary.

Mississippi Supreme Court Chief Justice William Waller Jr., son of a former governor, has announced his retirement in January, and hasn’t ruled out running for another office. Also, State Sen. Chris McDaniel, who ran third in the special election for U.S. senator, has dropped hints he may run.

In a forum at the Overby Center for Southern Journalism and Politics at Ole Miss last week, GOP political activist Austin Barbour predicted that Reeves will be the winner next year, defeating Hood in the general election.

He didn’t mention McDaniel, but answering  a question about the Waller possibility, Barbour discounted it. Judges have a hard time winning statewide elections for other offices, he said.  Moreover, since judgeship elections are supposed to be non-partisan, Barbour said he didn’t even know if Waller was a Republican and quipped that maybe he would run against Hood.

Barbour also disputed Reeves’ unpopularity  as a factor. The nature of the job in being a strong leader in the Legislature  requires saying no to some within one’s  own party, Barbour said.

Barbour’s opposite on the panel, former Democratic State Rep. Brandon Jones, made no predictions about the race, other than to point out his opinion that Hood is more likeable than Reeves. He referred to a mantra used  by Karl Rove for George W. Bush in Bush’s successful campaign against Al Gore in 2004 — “Who would you rather have a beer with?” —comparing Reeves to Gore and Hood to Bush in likeability.

Whatever happens, it’s bound to be closer than four years ago.

Meanwhile whoever wins the special election for U.S. Senate next week will only have two years to serve in Thad Cochran’s unexpired term before having to face re-election.

Hyde-Smith will most probably win it. An intriguing question is how much opposition she gets for re-election, including in the Republican primary.

By the this time next year, when the state elections are over, we’ll start speculating about that.

Unlike football, political season in Mississippi is never over.