Internet Explorer 11 is not supported

For optimal browsing, we recommend Chrome, Firefox or Safari browsers.

The Democrat Who Could Be Mississippi's Next Governor

Democrats rarely win elections in the South. If anyone can do it, it's Jim Hood.

Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood
Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood
(AP)
If any Democrat can be elected governor of Mississippi, it’s Jim Hood. The state’s four-term attorney general is the only Democrat who has won a statewide race in Mississippi in the last 16 years. That’s one reason Republicans are taking him seriously. Nevertheless, he faces an uphill climb in this year’s election, and an obscure provision in the state constitution may make it impossibly steep.

In Mississippi, it’s not enough for a gubernatorial candidate to win a majority of votes. He or she must also prevail in a majority of the state House districts. Otherwise, the election is thrown to the House to decide. It’s like a single-state Electoral College system.

Republicans are spread out around Mississippi, dominating rural districts, with Democratic voters concentrated in Jackson and some of the Delta counties along the state’s western edge. That makes Hood’s task of winning most of the state House districts fairly daunting. It won’t be sufficient for him to run up the score in Jackson or other blue enclaves. “The Trump realignment strengthened Republican numbers in Mississippi, largely because it brought over blue-collar Democrats,” says Brad Todd, a strategist for Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, the GOP favorite for governor. “You can tell the Gulf Coast has gotten redder.”

In last year’s U.S. Senate contest, Democrat Mike Espy carried just 31 of the state’s 82 counties, although he came fairly close in the popular vote. But Democrats believe Hood maintains broader appeal. He’s won each of his four races for attorney general by double-digit margins. Not only is Hood the only Democrat who’s been successful lately in statewide politics in Mississippi, but he was also the only Democrat occupying a statewide constitutional office anywhere in the South prior to the election of Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards in 2015. “It’s not just Democrats who have supported him through the years,” says Michael Rejebian, Hood’s senior campaign adviser. “He appeals to a broad range of voters -- urban, rural, suburban, farmers, everybody.”

Because the question of who won the most House districts won’t matter until November, Rejebian says the campaign is grappling right now with about a thousand more pressing issues. But it’s something candidates have to think about every time there’s an election for governor. When Ronnie Musgrove became the last Democratic governor of the state in 1999, he and his Republican opponent won an equal number of state House districts. Musgrove had carried the state by a plurality and the House installed him in office. 

But back then, the House was still controlled by Democrats. Republicans now control 74 of the 122 Mississippi House seats. GOP House members aren’t going to install a Democratic governor who fails to carry the state outright.

Alan Greenblatt is a senior staff writer for Governing. He can be found on Twitter at @AlanGreenblatt.
Special Projects
Sponsored Stories
The 2021 Ideas Challenge recognizes innovative public policy that positively impacts local communities and the NewDEAL leaders who championed them.
Sponsored
Drug coverage affordability really does exist in the individual Medicare marketplace!
Sponsored
Understand the differences between group Medicare and individual Medicare plans and which plans are best for retirees.
Sponsored
For a while, concerns about credit card fees and legacy processing infrastructure might have slowed government’s embrace of digital payment options.
Sponsored
How expanded financial assistance, a streamlined application process and creative legislation can help Black and brown-owned businesses revive communities hit hardest by the pandemic.
Sponsored
In recent years, local governments have been forced to adapt to a wildly changing world, especially as it pertains to sending bills and collecting payments.
Sponsored
Workplace safety is in the spotlight as government leaders adapt to a prolonged pandemic.
Sponsored
While government employees, students and the general public had to wait in line for hours in the beginning of the pandemic, at-home test kits make it easy to diagnose for the novel coronavirus in less than 30 minutes.
Sponsored
Governments around the nation are working to design the best vaccine policies that keep both their employees and their residents safe. Although the latest data shows a variety of polarizing perspectives, there are clear emerging best practices that leading governments are following to put trust first: creating policies that are flexible and provide a range of options, and being in tune with the needs and sentiments of their employees so that they are able to be dynamic and accommodate the rapidly changing situation.