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Mississippi Governor Election Preview


Why do Republicans need to try so hard to hold a governor's seat in Mississippi? President Trump visits the state tonight before next Tuesday's election. He is supporting Tate Reeves, who is running for governor. Reeves faces Attorney General Jim Hood, who is the only Democrat holding statewide office in a very red state. NPR's Debbie Elliott is in Jackson, Miss. Debbie, good morning.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: Is this state race for a state office being fought over national issues?

ELLIOTT: Well, that's exactly what the Republican, Tate Reeves, is trying to do. If you listen to him, he talks a lot about this race being about Donald Trump, who's coming tonight to help him. Just listen to his campaign ad.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Do you stand with our president and Tate Reeves or with the liberals and Jim Hood? Mississippi, it's time to choose.

ELLIOTT: And you see this screenshot saying reject the radical liberals. And it has these unflattering pictures of Nancy Pelosi and Maxine Waters and others around Jim Hood. In a speech to business leaders yesterday, Reeves sort of stuck with that message, saying, you know, a vote for me is like a vote for Trump.


TATE REEVES: If you believe that our country is headed in the right direction and you support President Trump, next Tuesday is critically important.

ELLIOTT: You know, Reeves' overall theme has been, you know, small government, conservative policies that work for the nation and for Mississippi.

INSKEEP: Is there a reason that Republicans would effectively nationalize this election? I'm just thinking a lot of voters in Mississippi are not going to favor a national Democrat. This is a state that President Trump won with 58% of the vote in 2016.

ELLIOTT: Right. But Jim Hood, you have to remember, has been elected to statewide office four times now, a Democrat in reliably-red Mississippi. And...

INSKEEP: Oh, so a state Democrat running on state issues can win in Mississippi?

ELLIOTT: He has. We'll see if he can go to a higher office. And, you know, he's been sort of rejecting this idea that liberal labels, you know, define him. He's stressing his down-home roots in north Mississippi, the territory where Trump is headed tonight. His campaign ads show him, you know, with his pickup truck, his hunting dog, Buck, and his rifle. Let's listen.


JIM HOOD: You all know me. I've worked for you for years. I do my job. And I'm a straight shooter.


ELLIOTT: You know, that sound you hear is him shooting a target - a bottle - and it shattering.


ELLIOTT: So, you know, he talks a lot about he has a moderate record. He's defended restrictive anti-abortion laws that have been passed by the conservative Mississippi legislature. And he is, you know, directly courting Republicans, asking them to step out of their comfort zone. Here's what he said yesterday.


HOOD: People in Mississippi have voted for me, and they've seen my record. And I think people will make a decision based upon my past.

ELLIOTT: So we'll find out.

INSKEEP: What makes this race so tight even with that particular guy's candidate?

ELLIOTT: You know, Republican Tate Reeves had a really bruising primary and now does not appear to be generating deep enthusiasm. I talked with Elva Eubanks from Star, Miss., who's active in conservative politics here. And this is her assessment of the governor's race.

ELVA EUBANKS: To say that we really don't have a good choice would put a bad reflection on one of them, and I don't really intend to do that. My only choice is to get Tate elected.

ELLIOTT: Now, the president's rally tonight should help get people a little bit more fired up than that. We'll see.

INSKEEP: Debbie, thanks.

ELLIOTT: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Debbie Elliott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Debbie Elliott
NPR National Correspondent Debbie Elliott can be heard telling stories from her native South. She covers the latest news and politics, and is attuned to the region's rich culture and history.
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