Miss. voters to choose new governor Tuesday

By Emily Wagster Pettus/The Associated Press

JACKSON — Mississippi voters are preparing to elect a new governor, fill all 174 legislative seats and decide three ballot initiatives, including one that could provoke a legal battle over abortion.

Polls are open 7 a.m.-7 p.m. Tuesday.

Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann said he wouldn’t predict the level of turnout. History shows voter participation is highest during presidential and gubernatorial election years.

“I would think between economic considerations and general conditions of the country, if people don’t come out to vote now I’m not sure when they would come out to vote,” Hosemann said Monday.

The attorney general’s office will have officials watching elections in 18 of the state’s 82 counties and the secretary of state’s office will have workers in 44 counties, Hosemann said. The Justice Department — which monitors some elections to ensure fairness to minorities — will have observers in Humphreys, Leflore, Panola and Wilkinson counties.

The three ballot initiatives are proposed amendments to the state constitution.

Initiative 26 would declare life begins at fertilization. If it’s approved, supporters say it could prompt a court challenge seeking to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision that established a legal right to abortion.

Initiative 27 would require voters to show government-issued identification at the polls.

Initiative 31 would restrict the government’s use of eminent domain to take private land for economic development.

The governor’s race is between Republican Phil Bryant, 56, of Brandon, who’s finishing one term as lieutenant governor, and Democrat Johnny DuPree, 57, who’s in his third term as mayor of Hattiesburg.

Bryant has outspent DuPree 7-to-1 in the race to succeed Republican Gov. Haley Barbour, who is limited to two terms and couldn’t run again. Bryant and DuPree have avoided criticizing each other.

“The election for governor is about who has the right experience, conservative values and proven record of leadership. Phil Bryant is ready to lead on day one,” the Bryant campaign said in an email Monday.

In his own email to supporters, DuPree wrote: “When I ran track, my coach would always say, ‘Run through the tape, not to the tape. If you run through the tape, you won’t slow down before you get to the finish line.’ We can see the finish line, and we’re not slowing down one bit.”

The governor’s race already made history. DuPree was the first black candidate to win a major-party nomination for the Mississippi governorship. Bryant is seeking to become the first Republican to succeed another Republican in that office.

Republicans are trying to overtake Democrats for control of the 122-member House, but it’s unclear whether they’ll succeed. The current partisan balance is 67 Democrats, 54 Republicans and one independent.

In the Senate, the partisan balance is 27 Republicans and 24 Democrats, with one vacant seat that had been held by a Democrat.

Republican Tate Reeves, who’s finishing his second term as state treasurer, is expected to be elected lieutenant governor Tuesday. His only opponent is the Reform Party’s Tracella Lou O’Hara Hill of Petal.

Candidates in the open race for state treasurer are Republican Lynn Fitch of Madison, who’s on leave as director of the state Personnel Board; Democrat Connie Moran, the second-term mayor of Ocean Springs; and the Reform Party’s Shawn O’Hara of Hattiesburg, who has run unsuccessfully for several offices the past two decades.

Candidates in the open race for agriculture commissioner are Republican state Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith of Brookhaven; Democrat Joel Gill, the mayor of Pickens; and the Reform Party’s Cathy L. Toole of Biloxi.

The Reform Party candidates reported spending $200 each on their campaigns. The party has no history of winning elections in Mississippi.

Democrat Jim Hood of Brandon, a former district attorney from north Mississippi, is seeking a third term as attorney general. He is challenged by Republican Steve Simpson of Gulfport, a former circuit judge who served as state commissioner of public safety from mid-2008 until early this year.