Rumors intensify that Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves will get a serious primary challenger for governor.
There’s the rumor he can’t beat Attorney General Jim Hood so politicos and money men are looking to recruit a strong challenger who can.
There are rumors of growing concerns by Republican leaders that Democrats could win three races — governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general — if Reeves is at the top of the ticket.
And there are rumors that potentially strong candidates are stirring in case there really is something to all these rumors.
Discontent with Reeves’ leadership — lack thereof, style, tone, etc. — seems to be behind the rumors. One longtime Republican leader told me he will oppose Reeves even if it means voting for a Democrat. Another said the state needs a governor who can actually lead, not one limited by what’s politically popular. (Are there still candidates like that who can win a primary?)
There’s also rumor of a survey showing Hood ahead of Reeves.
All this points to Reeves needing a strong showing in the upcoming budget committee sessions and next year’s legislative session. How he comes through all that may dictate Hood’s chances to upset him and, consequently, chances he gets a strong primary opponent.
Among the many names tossed about as primary challengers, the most intriguing are two Mississippi Supreme Court justices — Chief Justice Bill Waller and Presiding Justice Mike Randolph. Both come with substantive resumes and could mount strong primary campaigns.
Both have military pedigrees, a positive in military friendly Mississippi.
Waller spent 30 years in the Army guard and reserves, rising to brigadier general. He was awarded the Legion of Merit and is a graduate of the U.S. Army War College.
Randolph is a decorated Vietnam War veteran who served with the Army “Big Red One” 1st Infantry Division. He later served as a reserve officer in the United States Navy Judge Advocate General’s Corps and is a graduate of the Naval Justice School.
Both got their law degrees from Ole Miss, had successful legal practices before entering the judiciary and are considered conservative judges.
Both are married, attend Baptist churches, and have children and grandchildren.
They aren’t clones, though.
Waller, of course, is the son of popular former Gov. Bill Waller (1972-76). Randolph is the son of a construction worker with a third-grade education.
Waller has never been highly visible in party politics (judicial races are nonpartisan). He was first elected to the Supreme Court in 1996, rising to the position of chief justice in 2009. A Mississippi State University graduate, his political base lies in Jackson and central Mississippi.
Randolph, on the other hand, was a highly visible Republican before Gov. Haley Barbour appointed him in 2004 to serve out former Chief Justice Ed Pittman’s unexpired term. He also received an appointment by President Ronald Reagan to the National Coal Council. His political base lies in Hattiesburg and South Mississippi.
While Reeves is the clear favorite with a substantial war chest and statewide base, his performance over the next eight months will likely determine if Waller, Randolph or others take him on.
Bill Crawford is syndicated columnist from Meridian.