A solidly Republican state becomes more Republican

By Aaron Rice
November 6, 2019

Republicans first captured the governor’s mansion in Mississippi in 1991. It would take them 28 years before they won all eight statewide offices. 

But the Republican victory in the attorney general’s office for the first time wasn’t the story line of the night. That was more or less predetermined when Attorney General Jim Hood decided to run for governor, setting up the most competitive governor’s race in 16 years in the state.

Hood was everything you’d hope for as a Democrat. He’d been elected four times as a Democrat statewide; the last three times he was the only Democrat elected. He has roots in Northeast Mississippi, a populist region of the state once viewed as the key to win statewide. And a Democrat stronghold not too long ago.

Gov.-elect Tate Reeves had also been elected statewide four times, but he didn’t enjoy the broad appeal of the previous Republican governors, Haley Barbour and Phil Bryant. 

At the end of the day, all Democrats have to show is a narrower loss than normal. This isn’t a loss you can build on and argue that you are getting closer to the finish line. The near perfect storm of 2019 for Democrats likely won’t be there in 2023, and presumably, neither will Hood. 

There were no surprises among downballot races and very little crossover vote. In each of the seven races, Republicans won between 58 and 61 percent, a uniformity we hadn’t yet seen in the state. 

And while there was some jockeying for office, only one incumbent actually won re-election. Mike Chaney was re-elected to a fourth term as insurance commissioner. Agriculture Commissioner Andy Gipson and Auditor Shad White, who were both appointed to their positions by Gov. Phil Bryant, won their first full terms. 

Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann will soon become lieutenant governor and preside over an even larger Republican majority. Treasurer Lynn Fitch is moving to attorney general as the first Republican in that office.

State Sen. Michael Watson became the first resident of the Coast to be elected statewide in a generation as he becomes the next secretary of state. And businessman David McRae was elected treasurer, four years after unsucessfully challenging Fitch in the Republican primary. 

Among regional offices, the central district, which is a slight Democrat district, produced a split result. Republicans appear to have picked up the public service commissioner spot with Brent Bailey leading Jackson City Councilman De’Keither Stamps by about 3,500 votes. Commissioner Cecil Brown, a Democrat, did not run for re-election.

But Democrats look likely to capture the transportation commissioner office with State Sen. Willie Simmons leading Brandon Mayor Butch Lee by almost 5,000 votes. Commissioner Dick Hall, a Republican, did not run for re-election. 

There was little movement in the legislature, with a split decision in the House.

Though not official, Democrats are leading in House District 64, a seat in Northeast Jackson long held by Republican Bill Denny. He is trailing Democrat Shanda Yates by about 1,300 votes. In Desoto county, Republican Ashley Henley is trailing Democrat Hester Jackson McCray by 13 votes. Henley represents a district whose demographics are rapidly moving away from Republicans. Neither of those races have been officially called. 

House District 122 is a pickup for Republicans. Brent Anderson cruised to his first election over Wendy McDonald 68-32. There was little drama in this largely Republican seat after Rep. David Baria, a Democrat, passed on re-election. And Republicans are leading in House District 12, an Oxford based seat. Long held by Republicans, Democrat Jay Hughes captured the seat four years before leaving it to run for statewide office. Republican Clay Deweese is leading Democrat Tiffany Kilpatrick by about 50 votes. 

Among the two former Democrats running as independents, Rep. Angela Cockerham has defeated Democrat Aisha Sanders 58-42 in a very strong showing. Though Lee county produced numerous problems with machines yesterday, longtime Rep. Steve Holland is trailing his opponent, Democrat Rickey Thompson, by about 200 votes. 

We saw more changes in the Senate, with Republicans in line for a net pickup of three seats. 

Republican Daniel Sparks cruised to victory in Senate District 5 defeating Democrat Steve Eaton 72-28, Republican Ben Suber defeated Democrat Kegan Coleman 58-42 in Senate District 8, Republican Melanie Sojourner is returning to the Senate after defeating Democrat Wiliiam Godfrey 58-42, and Republican Mike Thompson defeated Gary Fredericks 52-48 in Senate District 48. This seat was made open after Fredericks defeated incumbent Deborah Dawkins in the primary. 

Democrats were successful in the recently redistricted Senate District 22. Democrat Joseph Thomas defeated Republican Hayes Dent 52-48. 

Along with likely losing a House seat in Oxford, Democrats lost the open Oxford-based Senate seat by 17 points. In the Hattiesburg-based House District 102, Republican Missy McGee cruised to her first full term, winning by 30 points. 

These are the type of ‘swingy’ districts Democrats would need to begin capturing to make progress in either chamber. That didn’t happen yesterday, and if you’re a Democrat you have to be wondering what the future holds. Who is going to be the Democrat nominee for governor in four years? There is no obvious answer. 

Yesterday was a good day for Democrats. In Virginia and Kentucky. But in Mississippi, Democrats have little to be excited about.


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