By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal
JACKSON – The biggest shortcoming on either side in the current election season continues to be the failure of the Democrats to field a candidate for lieutenant governor – not a credible candidate, but just any candidate.
Treasurer Tate Reeves won the Republican primary for lieutenant governor on Aug. 2 in impressive fashion, garnering 57 percent of the vote against Senate Pro Tem Billy Hewes of Gulfport
Reeves may face token opposition in November from a Reform Party candidate. But for all practical purposes, Reeves won the election for lieutenant governor on Aug. 2.
In the race that mattered in the contest to capture the influential seat of lieutenant governor, less than one-fourth of the people who went to the polls on Aug. 2 voted for Reeves. Those who voted in the Democratic primary did not have an opportunity to have a say in the election of the officer who presides over the Senate.
Even if the Democrats had fielded a candidate, Reeves would have been a heavy favorite – just as current Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant is in the race for governor where he will take on the winner of Tuesday’s Democratic runoff between Hattiesburg Mayor Johnny DuPree and Clarksdale attorney/businessman Bill Luckett.
Insiders say that two substantial Democratic politicians who were considering a run for lieutenant governor opted at the last minute not to enter the race. Speculation is that those two candidates were Ronnie Musgrove, who previously served as both governor and lieutenant governor, and long-time Hinds County Sheriff Malcolm McMillin, who was upset in the Aug. 2 primary in his re-election bid.
Without an opponent in November, Reeves, who has proven himself to be an able politician by winning three statewide races by the age of 38, will be free to engage in helping to ensure that fellow Republicans are elected to the Senate in November. More Republicans in the Senate will make it easier for Reeves to advance his conservative agenda.
Republican candidates for the Senate could benefit from the help of a lieutenant governor-elect who has displayed in his three elections an ability to raise campaign funds.
A Democratic opponent would have at least kept Reeves occupied. An opponent of the quality of a Musgrove – or even a McMillin,who has displayed a long history of being able to attract votes across party and racial lines despite his surprising loss this year – would have done more than keep Reeves occupied. He would have been in full campaign mode worried about his own election and would have had less time to get involved in other contests.
And even a lesser known candidate would have been of some concern. In recent years, most Democrats in statewide elections have had a difficult time garnering a majority vote. But recent elections also have proven that any Democrat on the statewide ballot can capture vote totals ranging in the low 40 percent range.
Heck, in 2007, Shawn O’Hara was the Democratic candidate in the race for treasurer against Reeves. O’Hara has run for every office in Mississippi – as an independent, Republican, Reform Party candidate and as a Democrat. He has in recent years qualified to run for multiple offices during the same election.
In essence, with all due respect, he is not viewed as a serious candidate, but he still garnered 40 percent against Reeves, the incumbent treasurer.
A candidate with even a little credibility would have kept Reeves busy.
That is what happened in 2007.
John Arthur Eaves Jr. did not come close to beating Haley Barbour for governor and no one with any political knowledge in the state believed Eaves, who had never run for political office, stood a chance.
But Eaves kept Barbour busy. Because of that, Barbour probably was not as active in legislative races as he would have liked to have been. The result, to the chagrin of the Republican Barbour, was that Democrats captured a majority in both the House and Senate in 2007. Democrats across the state should have thanked Eaves for that effort.
Of course, Eaves, a Jackson attorney, is still paying off the debt he incurred from essentially financing his own campaign.
Not everyone can do that. And that is the reason Democrats fell on their face in fielding a candidate for the office of lieutenant governor.
Bobby Harrison is the Daily Journal’s Capitol Bureau Chief. Contact him at email@example.com or call (601) 353-3119.