Barbour/ Musgrove still most expensive gubernatorial election

By Steve Wilson
November 13, 2019

The cost to win Mississippi’s governor mansion can get expensive when a competitive Democrat is on the top of the ticket.

Tuesday’s election won by Republican Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves over the state’s lone remaining Democrat in statewide elected office, Attorney General Jim Hood, was the second most costly in state history after the 2003 race.

Then-Gov. Ronnie Musgrove was defeated by Gov. Haley Barbour in an election that cost a combined $18 million.

The final tally for 2019 added up to about $16 million, with Reeves spending $10.8 million and Hood spending about $5.2 million. This was more than the last two gubernatorial races combined.

Hood’s spending added to about $13.43 per each of his 402,080 votes (46.6 percent), while Reeves spent $24.01 for each of his 449,746 votes (52.1 percent). 

Those vote tallies are eerily similar to 2003, when Barbour defeated Musgrove 52.59 percent to 45.81 percent. Barbour had 470,404 votes against Musgrove’s 409,787 total. Turnout was higher in 2003 by 31,878 votes.

Hood had the best performance, both percentage-wise and numbers wise, in the last four cycles for a Democrat in a statewide race. 

The closest in percentage was John Eaves, who lost to the incumbent Barbour with 42.1 percent of the vote in 2007. Eaves received 313,232 votes out of 744,039 cast. 

Hood did better than predicted by several pre-election polls and won largely-Republican Madison county by 445 votes, swept all of the Delta counties and was competitive in GOP stronghold Desoto county with 37.7 percent of the vote (13,919 votes). 

In the hotly contested U.S. Senate runoff in 2018, Mike Espy earned 40.9 percent of the 42,884 votes cast in Desoto county.

Comparisons are difficult between statewide and national elections, but the possible ceiling for Democrats in Mississippi can be extrapolated from the 2008 and  2012 presidential elections won by Barack Obama with high statewide turnout. He earned 43 percent (554,641) of the 1,289,865 votes cast statewide in 2008 and 43.79 percent in 2012 (562,949 out of 1,285,584 total).

Speaking of Desoto county, Obama received 30.51 percent in 2008 in (19,627 votes) and 32.79 percent in 2012 (21,575 votes).

The U.S. Senate race in 2018 had the second-best Democrat showing statewide in the 2000s. Espy received 420,819 votes or 46.4 percent in the runoff won by Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith.

One of places where the 2019 election was won for Reeves was in northeast Mississippi. The eight most northeastern counties went decisively for the lieutenant governor after voting heavily for Hood in his elections as attorney general. The Gulf Coast was also a place where Reeves racked up big numbers, as he received 64.1 percent of all votes there.

Gov. Phil Bryant’s path to the governor’s mansion after two terms of Barbour was easier than Reeves (or Barbour). 

In 2011, Bryant beat former Hattiesburg mayor Johnny DuPree in the general election 61 percent to 39 percent. DuPree spent $1.197 million in the race and received 348,617 votes. That adds up $3.43 per vote for the Democrat.

Bryant spent $5.58 million in the race and earned 544,851 votes. His spending amounted to about $10.24 per vote.

The 2015 election was one of the cheapest in recent memory. Bryant faced an unknown Democrat, truck driver Robert Gray. Gray, whose CB handle was the “Silent Knight,” spent a mere pittance on his campaign. His $4,835 in campaign spending added up to two cents per each of the 231,643 votes cast for him in the general election or 32.3 percent of votes cast.

Bryant spent $2.74 million on his race or about $5.74 per each of his 476,697 votes for 66.4 percent of the votes.


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