BILOXI, Miss. (AP) — Vice President Mike Pence campaigned Monday in Mississippi for the Republican nominee for governor, who’s in a tight race with the state’s best-funded Democratic nominee in nearly a generation.
“Mississippi and America need Tate Reeves to be the next governor of the great state of Mississippi,” Pence told hundreds of people at the Mississippi Gulf Coast Coliseum. “Tate Reeves is Mississippi. He’s a strong conservative.”
Reeves is in his second term as lieutenant governor. The Democratic nominee for governor, Jim Hood, is in his fourth as attorney general. They are on the ballot Tuesday along with two lesser-known candidates. The winner will succeed Republican Gov. Phil Bryant, who is limited by state law to two terms.
Mississippi is conducting its most competitive governor’s race since 2003, when the state’s last Democratic governor was unseated by a Republican. Reeves and Hood are spending millions, with backing from Republican and Democratic national governors’ groups.
This year’s race is a dramatic change from four years ago, when the Democratic nominee was a long-haul truck driver who didn’t vote for himself in the primary, raised little money and lost the general election by a wide margin.
Republicans have held the governorship in Mississippi for 24 of the past 28 years.
Hood campaigned Monday in the Mississippi Delta, a traditional Democratic stronghold.
“People want to see our roads fixed, and people want to see our rural hospitals open in areas like this where the hospital is really struggling,” Hood told reporters in Greenwood. “And people want to see us do more in education.”
At times the Reeves event in Biloxi sounded like a rally for President Donald Trump. People leapt to their feet and shouted “four more years” when Pence relayed greetings from Trump. The president campaigned for Reeves on Friday in the northeastern Mississippi city of Tupelo.
In a speech running about 30 minutes, Pence cast Hood as a liberal, out of touch with Mississippians. He said Hood supported Hillary Clinton for president, was soft on Second Amendment protections and once denounced the de-funding of Planned Parenthood.
Pence, Gov. Phil Bryant and Reeves himself repeatedly said support for Reeves and other Republicans is a show of support for Trump.
Pence made one brief allusion to congressional Democrats’ impeachment inquiry, saying a vote for Reeves would “send a message to Washington, D.C., that enough is enough, and that Mississippi is tired of the endless investigations and partisan impeachment.”
Hood has distanced himself from national Democratic leaders, focusing instead on trying to build a bipartisan coalition of voters with promises to put more money into schools and highways and to expand Medicaid to the working poor. Medicaid expansion is an option under the federal health overhaul that then-President Barack Obama signed into law in 2010. Mississippi is among 14 states that have rejected expansion, with Reeves and other GOP leaders saying they don’t want more people on the health insurance plan funded by federal and state governments.
Hood said he also expects to receive support from Republicans disenchanted with Reeves, including people who voted for former Mississippi Supreme Court Chief Justice Bill Waller Jr. in the GOP primary runoff in August.
“Many of the Republicans have encouraged me to run,” Hood said Monday. “I think a lot of them will go in there and vote quietly and vote for me because they want to see change in Mississippi. They are tired of seeing our children leave our state.”
At the Republican rally in Biloxi, Reeves said that Hood, at the behest of trial lawyer allies, had fought efforts to ensure most of the BP oil spill money stays on the coast. Mississippi received $750 million in compensation after the 2010 spill in the Gulf of Mexico involving energy giant BP.
“We don’t want the liberal Democrats who are attacking our president to be leading our country and that’s exactly what’ll happen if Jim Hood is elected governor,” Reeves said.
Hood is running campaign ads that say he led the fight to get money from BP to help the Gulf Coast.
Emily Wagster Pettus reported from Jackson.