Unprecedented amounts of cash are flowing into the Mississippi governor’s race. Just check out the leading Republican contender, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves.
In the first four months of the year, Reeves raked in more than $1 million in donations, bringing his campaign stash to $6.7 million, even after rolling out a recent blitz of television ads.
Eight years ago, as then-Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant was making his winning bid for higher office, he reported $2 million in campaign funds at the same juncture. Go back another eight years, and winning Republican candidate Haley Barbour had about $1.3 million at the same deadline.
Reeves’ prolific fundraising is thanks in part to donors’ awareness that he faces a formidable Democratic opponent in Attorney General Jim Hood, said Nathan Shrader, assistant professor of political science at Millsaps College. Shrader said there’s likely concerns among Republicans that a strong Hood run could generate “coattails” — pushing more Democrats to victory in legislative races and other down ticket contests.
Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood (left) and Mississippi Lt. Governor Tate Reeves (Photo: AP)
Reeves has had several years to raise money for his run, pointed out Steve Rozman, a Tougaloo College political science professor. Rich Republicans and political action committees from Mississippi and elsewhere know his name, and know he’s aligning himself with President Donald Trump.
“A lot of (Reeves’) money goes back a ways,” Rozman said. “He’s part of the establishment, he’s collecting IOUs. He’s got all these connections that have helped him get the money.”
Yet while Reeves has raised the most, plenty of big donors are turning elsewhere: To Hood, who collected several $25,000 checks in recent months, and to Republican Bill Waller, who racked up $580,000 over two months from Mississippi donors uneasy with Reeves’ style and chances against Hood in a general election.
Here’s how much the leading candidates for governor raised in the first four months of this year, and where they got their campaign money:
Tate Reeves, Republican
Raised: $1.04 million
In the first four months of the year, Reeves picked up the largest amount, $40,000, from Franc Lee, CEO of First Tower Loan, which is based in Flowood, where Reeves lives. Other big individual donations were $25,000 from Richard Wax, who runs The Wax Company in Amory, and $25,000 from Chris Gouras, of Gouras and Associates in Ridgeland.
Reeves brought in more than other candidates from political action committees, some based outside the state, including $30,000 from the Mississippi Association of Realtors PAC.
He now appears to have enough money to keep up a sustained ad blitz from now until November, Shrader said. He’s already rolled out a slate of television and digital ads.
Jim Hood, Democrat
Where does Hood, the state’s current attorney general, get most of his big donations? Fellow attorneys.
His filings show he’s tapped wealthy lawyers and law firms from both inside and outside of Mississippi in recent months. Many of the gifts are for $5,000 and up.
His biggest donations were for $25,000 — from attorney James Franks, attorney Rob Wells as well as the law firm Kessler Topaz Meltzer & Check, based in Pennsylvania.
Hood also picked up $25,000 from Jim Barksdale, the Mississippi businessman and internet tech legend who led Netscape in the 1990s. Barksdale gave the same amount to Waller.
Other notable donations include $5,000 from the actor Kevin Costner.
Former Supreme Court Chief Justice Bill Waller (Photo: Rogelio V. Solis, AP)
Bill Waller, Republican
Waller, the former Mississippi Supreme Court chief justice, brought in donations from a range of donors over the past few months. He picked up $20,000 from a paving company, $20,000 from a machinery company, and $5,000 from Ed Meek, the controversial former namesake of the Ole Miss journalism department.
His biggest, $25,000, was from Barksdale.
Shrader said Waller’s haul of $580,000 since he launched his campaign more than two months ago “is significant, in the sense that he hasn’t been a candidate for very long.”
“If he keeps raising money at this pace, that lets him get a little further in terms of exposure and raising his name ID,” Shrader said.
Rep. Robert Foster (Photo: Rogelio V. Solis/AP)
Robert Foster, Republican
Foster’s biggest donation was for $5,000. Many of the state representative’s donations were relatively small amounts from north Mississippi, where Foster lives and runs a DeSoto County agriculture tourism business.
His spending shows he’s focused on getting the word out on social media — he spent $9,000 on Facebook and $3,000 on Twitter ads in recent months.
Foster acknowledges he’s running a budget campaign, with just one full-time staffer and many volunteers.
“We’re going to use a different strategy to reach people,” and it doesn’t involve expensive television ads, he said in an interview. “I believe, in 2019, you can reach an equivalent number of voters on social media as you can on other forms of paid media. It’s much more cost-effective.”
Robert Shuler Smith (Photo: The Clarion-Ledger)
Robert Shuler Smith, Democrat
Perhaps Hood’s most formidable opponent in the August primary, the Hinds County district attorney brought in about $11,000 in the first part of this year, but much of that was from his DA campaign account.
While he had just $387 in leftover in his account at the end of April, Smith insisted Monday he plans to keep fundraising and run a serious campaign going forward.
“Fundraising is something that’s happening progressively,” he said, adding he’s been busy running the DA’s office in recent months but planned to ramp up his campaign efforts soon.
“I’ve got a lot of people helping,” he said. “My calendar is full.”
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