JACKSON, Miss. -- Fourth-term Attorney General Jim Hood defeated seven lesser-known candidates Tuesday to grab the Democratic nomination for Mississippi governor. In the Republican gubernatorial primary, second-term Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves is heading to a runoff in three weeks with former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Bill Waller Jr.
Hood hopes to break the grip Republicans have held on the governorship for 24 of the past 28 years in the conservative Southern state.
"People are ready for change in Mississippi. Certainly, the working folks are," Hood told The Associated Press after he won.
Mississippi is one of only three states electing a governor this year. Louisiana and Kentucky are the others. Reeves is endorsed by Republican Gov. Phil Bryant, who is term-limited, and he raised millions more than any of his GOP rivals.
Reeves told supporters late Tuesday at a restaurant in the Jackson suburb of Flowood that he had to win a Republican primary runoff when he first ran for state treasurer in 2003.
"I am totally and completely confident that, number one, we are going to have a conservative as the Republican nominee for governor. I can tell you tonight that I am going to be the Republican nominee for governor of Mississippi," Reeves said. "And I can tell you tonight — we are going to beat Jim Hood in November."
Waller told supporters at his downtown Jackson campaign headquarters that the issues he discussed resonated with voters, including his push to spend more money on roads.
"The march has started, and we're going to be victorious Aug. 27," Waller said.
In addition to the Republican and Democratic nominees, the Nov. 5 ballot for governor will have a Constitution Party candidate, Bob Hickingbottom, and an independent candidate, David Singletary.
Hood said he wants to improve roads and education, reduce the state's 7% tax on groceries and work on "cleaning up the Legislature" by eliminating contracts that lawmakers have directed toward specific companies that hire big lobbying firms.
Adam Wells, 34, is a former teacher who's now an education consultant. At a precinct in Canton, Wells said he voted for Hood.
"I think he's the only shot the Democrats have to beat Tate Reeves," Wells said. "It will be very difficult to do that, and he's the only Democrat in the race to hold a statewide office."
Reeves has raised the most money of any candidate for Mississippi governor and has run on a record of cutting taxes and being socially and fiscally conservative.
Reeves largely ignored Waller and the other Republican in the race, first-term state Rep. Robert Foster. Instead, Reeves has focused on Hood, who has raised the most money among the eight Democratic seeking the nomination for governor.
Reeves said Hood will be a Chuck Schumer-Nancy Pelosi-Barack Obama-Hillary Clinton "liberal." Hood said voters should be wary when politicians use labels rather than talking about issues.
Reeves has portrayed Mississippi as being in good financial shape and said teachers have received raises each of the eight years he has been lieutenant governor. Critics, however, say a big chunk of the teacher pay increase has been through previously scheduled raises, and that Mississippi still lags far behind national and regional averages for teacher pay.
Waller and Foster said Mississippi's situation is not as rosy as Reeves portrays.
At a polling place in Picayune, Kathy Burke, 66, said Reeves' support of President Donald Trump was a key factor in her decision.
"I like what's happening and Reeves seems to be a staunch supporter of him," Burke said.
Reeves and other top Republicans have long opposed Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act, and Mississippi is among 14 states that have not chosen some sort of expansion plan. Waller and Foster both advocate a type of system Indiana used when Mike Pence was governor — seeking federal permission to let people purchase Medicaid coverage if they are considered working poor.
Waller and Foster also both say Reeves has done too little to find money to improve highways and bridges, even as Mississippi has been told that many bridges are structurally deficient.
Reeves opposes a gasoline tax increase. Waller and Foster both say they would support increasing the gas tax if the state also reduces or eliminates the state income tax. They say a gas tax is a user fee that also would be paid by out-of-state drivers who stop and fill up in Mississippi. After the state was forced to close hundreds of structurally deficient bridges in 2018, legislators met in special session and authorized the creation of a lottery to help pay for highways and bridges. Money has not started to come in, though, because lottery games won't begin until late this year.
Hood raised far more money than any of the other Democratic candidates for governor. He is currently the only Democrat holding statewide office in Mississippi, and he is seeking to become the state's first Democratic governor since Ronnie Musgrove was defeated in 2003 after serving a single term.
Hood says Mississippi needs to strengthen public education and improve highways and bridges. He also advocates expanding Medicaid, saying the state is losing billions of federal dollars. Hood says he personally opposes abortion, which has prompted criticism from some Democratic primary voters.
Associated Press writer Kevin McGill contributed from Picayune, Mississippi.
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