Now that Senate race shenanigans have ended, the state’s political focus turns to next year’s statewide elections.
Will Governor Phil Bryant be challenged? By a fellow Republican or a strong Democrat? Will Lieutenant Governor Tate Reeves be challenged? Or Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann? Or State Treasurer Lynn Fitch? Or State Auditor Stacey Pickering? Or Agriculture Commissioner Cindy Hyde-Smith? Or Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney?
Or Attorney General Jim Hood, the only Democrat among the group?
Will the tea party and/or Chris McDaniel allies bring out strong candidates to challenge incumbents? Will Democrats come up with viable candidates in this Republican dominated state?
The next months will be filled with rumors, hints of interest, and political maneuvering. Already rumors abound that Hosemann is being encouraged by tea party members and friends of the Governor to run against Reeves. Lynn Fitch is said to want to run for another office. Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley, a Democrat, may be considering a run for governor.
Amidst all this speculation, party leaders have a key role to play. With seven of eight statewide offices in hand, the Republican Party focus is to maintain. Nasty primaries like the Cochran/McDaniel battle could open a door for Democrats. (Democratic turnout during statewide elections far exceeds turnout during off-year federal elections.) The Democratic Party focus is to keep the Attorney General position and try to pick off one or more additional positions. The parties will also be focusing on down ticket races, particularly legislative races.
Hood is the top elected official for Democrats but does not appear to play a large role in party affairs. Party chairman Ricky Cole plays that role. His main job appears to be to get Hood to run again. Geoff Pender wrote in the Clarion-Ledger that Hood would be more likely to run if Presley runs for governor, “giving him some Democratic help at the top of the ticket.” This focus would change if Hosemann gives up his Secretary of State position to challenge Reeves or Fitch runs for another office.
The titular head of the Republican Party is Governor Phil Bryant. He played a strong party role in supporting Cochran. Will Bryant provide similar strong party leadership and work to maintain the status quo next year, or will he encourage primary challenges to incumbent Republicans? Pundits write about his lack of fondness for Reeves, some saying he is quietly coaxing Hosemann to challenge Reeves. Then there is his affinity to some of the McDaniel team. Bryant’s actions over the next months will do much to shape the political agenda for Republicans and Democrats.
Also influencing races will be the money people. Their appetite for more, tough primaries will be a factor.
The nature of next year’s politics, bitter or sweet, is now in play.