Mississippi candidates vying to become the state's next governor raised millions of dollars in the first political fundraising quarter.
In the Republican race, the frontrunner, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, raised an expected hefty sum through his Tate for Governor fundraising PAC, bringing in slightly more than $2 million for the period; however, that included a $1 million transfer from Reeves' other PAC, Friends of Tate, which raised those funds in years prior.
Even excluding that transfer, though, Reeves raised more money than any other candidate. Mississippi Supreme Court Chief Justice Bill Waller demonstrated his fundraising prowess, raising nearly $580,000. While Reeves entered the race and started raising money in January, Waller did not enter the race or start fundraising until March 1.
Last week, Waller's campaign previewed his numbers, with campaign finance committee member Leland Speed calling them "a sign of real momentum-building all across the state."
A third GOP contender, state Rep. Robert Foster of Hernando, claimed a significantly more modest sum, with his campaign raising just under $73,000.
Last week, Foster told the Jackson Free Press that he hopes to leverage his social-media following, which, on Facebook, is bigger than either Reeves' or Waller's, to close the gap.
"In 2019, I believe social media, along with a heavy grassroots ground game, can compete with TV, direct mail and other sources of paid media to level the playing field in politics," Foster said on May 9. "If that time is now, then having an actual plan to help our economy will prevail over special interests and their bought-and-paid-for politicians that seem to only be focused on keeping the status quo. I am attempting something that has never been done in a Mississippi statewide election."
'A Messier Primary Than They Bargained For'
In a May 10 press release, the Democratic Governor's Association, or DGA, pointed to Waller's numbers as a sign of turbulence in the state GOP.
"The impressive number means two things: 1. Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves' supposed smooth ride to the nomination is officially over and 2. It's going to cost a lot of resources to win," the DGA's statement reads.
"It's not the only sign that Republicans are seriously divided in this race," the statement continues. "Last month, four former state GOP Chairs endorsed Waller over Reeves, worrying that the Lt. Gov. would hurt Republicans' chances of winning in November. Now that Waller's shown the ability to raise significant money, Republicans officially have a messier primary than they bargained for."
A divided GOP electorate could benefit Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood—the state's only Democrat who currently holds statewide office. During the period, he raised the second-largest sum of any candidate running, with a haul of a little more than $755,600.
Hood ended the fundraising period with slightly more cash on hand than his top Republican opponent—$1.19 million to Reeves' $1.02 million. That includes funds Hood held over from prior fundraising periods.
Valesha P. Williams, a Jackson-based Democrat who is also running for her party's nomination, raised just $11,739.97 this period, including more than $4,300 she loaned herself. She ended the period with $137.08 cash on hand.
Hinds County District Attorney Robert Shuler Smith, another Democrat in the race, reported $11,393.39 in contributions, but that included $10,671.55 that he shifted over from his last district attorney race.
Democrat Bob Hickingbottom reported $2,000 from a self loan, while two other Democrats, Robert Ray and Michael Brown reported no contributions. Independent candidate David Singletary reported $715 in contributions.
Both party's primaries will take place on Aug. 6. In Mississippi, voters must register 30 days before an election to be eligible to vote and must show an accepted form of photo ID at the polls.
Follow state reporter Ashton Pittman on Twitter @ashtonpittman. Send tips to [email protected].