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Nearly two years out, a poll finds that Mississippi’s only statewide elected Democrat is leading Mississippi’s Republican lieutenant governor

Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood – a Democrat – is leading Mississippi Lt. Governor Tate Reeves – a Republican – in the race to become Mississippi’s next governor in 2019.

Hood, who has served as Mississippi’s attorney general since 2003, leads Reeves by five points, 43-37, in a poll conducted last week by Mason Dixon Polling & Strategy. Twenty percent say they’re undecided. Hood wins 80 percent of Democrats, 14 percent of Republicans, and leads among independent voters 38-33. Hood’s lead is thanks in large part to heavy support from African Americans.

Mississippi won’t vote for a new governor for nearly two years – in November 2019. Still, Hood’s early lead is striking because Mississippi hasn’t elected a Democrat to the governor’s mansion since 1999, when voters elected Ronnie Musgrove. Musgrove lost his bid for a second term to Haley Barbour in 2003. Today, Hood is Mississippi’s only statewide elected Democratic officeholder.

It’s possible that, should Hood decide to run, he may face someone other Reeves, such as Mississippi Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, a moderate Republican. Conventional wisdom says that Gov. Phil Bryant’s lieutenant governor will be the Republican nominee for governor (Bryant was Barbour’s lieutenant governor), but elections in recent years have had a habit of producing unexpected results, from the ascendency of Donald Trump to Democrat Doug Jones’ shocking U.S. Senate victory in Mississippi’s sister state of Alabama.

Right now, Reeves would lead Mississippi State Treasurer Lynn Fitch in a Republican primary 37-18, but a whopping 45 percent of Republicans are undecided.

To complicate matters for Reeves, Governor Bryant’s approval rating has taken a hit, the Mason Dixon Poll finds. In March of 2016, Bryant’s 68 percent of Mississippians approved of Bryant’s job as governor, down only slightly from 72 percent in 2015. Today, however, Bryant’s approval has dropped to 59 percent, with 31 percent disapproving.

Jones was able to win in Alabama, in part, because he was running against a Republican who had been accused of pursuing sexual relationships with underage girls. But even more significant in Jones’ victory was unusually large turnout among African Americans, who made up a larger share of the electorate in Alabama than they did in 2008 or 2012 – when the nation’s first black president was on the ballot.

In 2014, Census data showed that black residents accounted for 38.1 percent of Mississippi’s population – the highest in the nation. Comparatively, only 26.6 percent of Alabama’s population was black. With strong support from black voters combined with an Alabama-like boost in turnout, Hood – or another Democrat – could do the unthinkable and become Mississippi’s next governor. Across the nation, Democratic turnout is expected to rise over the next few years, activated by unrest over the Trump administration and the GOP Congress’ policies.

Bryant’s dwindling approval rating could be a boon to Fitch in a theoretical primary and to Hood in a theoretical general election.

The Mason-Dixon Poll had a margin of error +/- 4 points and surveyed 625 registered voters in Mississippi via telephone from December 13-15.


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