JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood is trying to become the second Democratic governor in the Deep South as he faces Republican Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves in the state’s most competitive governor’s race in years.
President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence both traveled to Mississippi to campaign for Reeves in the closing days before Tuesday’s election.
Hood, Reeves and two lesser-known candidates are on the ballot. The winner will succeed Republican Gov. Phil Bryant, who is limited by law to two terms.
Democrats see Hood as their strongest nominee in nearly a generation in a conservative state where Republicans have been governor for 24 of the past 28 years.
The lone Democratic governor in the Deep South, Louisiana’s John Bel Edwards, is in a Nov. 16 runoff as he seeks a second term. Kentucky is the only other state choosing a governor this year, and its election is also Tuesday.
Hood, 57, is finishing his fourth term as attorney general and for more than a decade has been the only Democrat holding statewide office in Mississippi.
Hood, who eschews connections to national Democratic figures , has campaigned for governor on improving schools and highways and on expanding Medicaid to the working poor.
Expansion is an option under the federal health overhaul signed into law in 2010 by then-President Barack Obama. Mississippi is among the 14 states that have not expanded Medicaid, a decision that Hood said has cost the state $1 billion a year in federal money.
“I grew up in a small Baptist church in northeast Mississippi, and I believe in fighting for the least among us,” Hood said Saturday after speaking to potential voters at a barbershop near Jackson State University.
“I’ve fought for working people in Mississippi, particularly for children — to protect our children, widows, orphans and elderly. I mean, that’s what Jesus talked more about than anything else, and that’s my core beliefs,” Hood said. “And that’s what I’m going to do as governor.”
Reeves, 45, is finishing his second term as lieutenant governor and previously served two terms as the elected state treasurer. He frequently says that voting for Hood is akin to voting for “liberal” national Democrats, including U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Reeves has campaigned on limiting government regulation of businesses, and he has said a large tax-cut package Republicans pushed into law in the past four years is boosting the state economy.
“If Mississippi chooses to go in a different direction … and elect a liberal Democrat to lead our state, they’ve already promised they’re going to repeal those tax cuts,” Reeves told hundreds of business people at a state chamber of commerce event last week. “Everyone in here that pays income taxes — your taxes are going to go up.”
Hood is the best-funded Democrat to run for Mississippi governor since 2003. Four years ago, the party’s nominee was Robert Gray, a long-haul truck driver who didn’t vote for himself in the primary, raised little money and lost the general election by a wide margin.
In addition to Reeves and Hood, the candidates on Tuesday’s ballot for governor are independent David Singletary and the Constitution Party’s Bob Hickingbottom, who have both run low-budget campaigns.
Mississippi has a Jim Crow-era election process that could make a tight election difficult to decide on Election Day. The state’s 1890 constitution requires a statewide candidate to win a majority of the popular vote and the electoral vote. If nobody wins both, the election is decided by the state House, now controlled by Republicans.
One electoral vote is awarded to the top vote-getter in each of the 122 state House districts. But, if representatives decide the race in January, they are not obligated to vote as their districts did.
Mississippi’s election process was written when white politicians across the South were enacting laws to erase black political power gained during Reconstruction, and the separate House vote was promoted as a way for the white ruling class to have the final say in who holds office.
Some African American residents sued the state this year , arguing that the system unconstitutionally diminishes the value of some votes. U.S. District Judge Daniel P. Jordan III ruled Friday that he would not immediately block the system days before the election, but he wrote that he has “grave concern” that the electoral vote could violate the one person, one vote principle.
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