Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Some thoughts on the Republican Lt. Gov. race

I've been asked repeatedly who I think will win the Republican Lieutenant Governor primary. 42 days out, this is more interesting than I believed it was a month ago. What follows is a summary of my thoughts on the race.

Tate Reeves continues to ride positive press based on his record-breaking cash on hand numbers. There's something under the surface, though, that is being a bit overlooked. Reeves has a massive lead in cash on hand due in large part to the money he had left over from 2007. In terms of the actual amount of money raised year-to-date, Reeves has outpaced Hewes 57.1% to 42.9%. That's significant, but it isn't nearly the same as the 70/30 lead Reeves enjoys in terms of cash on hand.

Which brings to mind something else: how much money is "enough" in terms of a statewide primary race? Money exists in politics to get your message out via media. Traditional outlets such as TV and radio are important, but not as important as they were even 4 years ago thanks to the increased saturation of the internet and social media. That being said, a candidate still has to be on cable and broadcast TV in order to stand any chance of winning a statewide primary. I would argue that both Hewes and Reeves will have enough money to be effective in terms of TV advertising going into August 2.

Taking that into account, one has to begin looking at the political alliances the respective candidates have formed. Reeves, aside from already being a statewide elected official, is the "Barbour" candidate in this election. He has developed close ties with the younger members of the Barbour clan, and will continue to rely upon their financial and vote-getting network going forward. Reeves is from Rankin County, which should be a benefit to him in the Republican primary, which is heavily influenced by Rankin votes. Reeves also recently received the endorsement of Sen. Merle Flowers (R-Southaven), which may significantly aid Reeves in DeSoto County, which is traditionally a large source of votes in the Republican primary.

Hewes, having served 5 terms in the Legislature, certainly has a base of support among other Republican senators (and almost certainly current Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant, though that may not ever be public). Furthermore, Hewes would presumably have a base along the Coast, which contributes its own large share of Republican primary votes. Here's where it gets interesting though. Five days ago, Hewes announced the support of two absolute giants in the Mississippi Republican Party, Billy Mounger and Billy Powell. If you'll think back to the 2008 Republican Congressional primary to replace Rep. Chip Pickering, you may recall that Powell and Mounger supported Gregg Harper, whom many viewed to be a longshot. Back then, all of the so-called "smart money" was on Charlie Ross and David Landrum. The support of Powell and Mounger delivered a long-established Republican political structure to Harper, surprising many folks. I would not be surprised at all if the Powell-Mounger endorsement of Hewes impacts this race in a large way.

So, in sum, my thoughts are that this race is in no way close to over, as many seem to think. Watch for Hewes to make a big run at this over the next 42 days..

*As an aside, it is interesting to look at this race in terms of the longstanding Delta/Jackson divide in the Mississippi Republican Party. This divide arose during the 1976 Republican presidential primary, with Billy Powell and Billy Mounger backing Ronald Reagan's insurgent campaign, and Clarke Reed of Greenville backing Gerald Ford. (Good post on this divide here.) One would typically think that the Delta candidate in this race would be Hewes, who hails from the more socially moderate Coast, and that Reeves would be the hometown darling of the Rankin County Republican power structure (which has traditionally followed the lead of Billy Powell). Whichever way this race turns out, there will be an interesting post mortem performed by someone. (I'm looking at you, Jere Nash and Andy Taggart.)

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