By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal Jackson Bureau
PHILADELPHIA – The state’s media will be focused on the historic Neshoba County Fair beginning Wednesday as statewide candidates gather for a much-anticipated political speaking with party primary elections less than a week away.
While the major gubernatorial candidates from both parties will speak on Thursday, the highlight could be Wednesday when lieutenant governor candidates Tate Reeves and Billy Hewes take the stage in back-to-back speeches starting with Hewes at 10:40 a.m.
Those speeches take on added significance because the winner of the Reeves-Hewes race, which has turned acrimonious in recent weeks, will not face Democratic opposition in November.
All the major statewide candidates will speak on either Wednesday or Thursday. While the event has now turned into political theater where most of those listening under the Founders Square pavilion are political activists who already have made up their minds, the event is still important because of the statewide media attention.
In addition to their speeches, Hewes and Reeves will engage in a debate after both speak Wednesday.
The debate will be conducted live at the fair at noon by Jackson television station WAPT, an ABC affiliate, and will last about 15 minutes. It will air Wednesday night on WAPT.
Hewes, the current Senate pro-tem, has accused Reeves, the current state treasurer, of ducking debate opportunities with him.
In prepared remarks, Hewes said, “I enthusiastically accept this opportunity for the public to finally see my opponent and I discuss the issues on stage together. We have been asked several times, and my opponent has backed out of eight opportunities. He seems to always have a scheduling problem. I am happy he has finally agreed to step up and join me to better inform the people of Mississippi.”
The Reeves campaign countered, “Including the Fair speeches, that will be the 14th joint appearance at candidate forums for the Republican candidates for lieutenant governor.”
Many of those joint appearances have not been debate-style events, but rather opportunities where both Reeves and Hewes gave speeches. But there have been debates, including a 90-minute meeting in July at the Mississippi Press Association convention in Biloxi.
They were invited for a debate at the University of Mississippi sponsored by the Overby Center for Southern Journalism and Politics, but Reeves declined that offer.