2019 may set spending record

By JACK RYAN ENTERPRISE-JOURNAL,

Polls can be one way to assess the possible results of an upcoming election. But campaign finance reports are another way, and the latest ones show that when it comes to money, Republican nominee Tate Reeves still has more of it.

Campaign finance reports released last week show that Reeves had $3.3 million on hand compared to $1.3 million for Jim Hood, the Democratic nominee.

That’s a sizable difference, but it’s a lot smaller than it used to be. The reports showed that Reeves spent a whopping $5.8 million between July and September, most to fend off two strong candidates in the Republican primary.

The same July-September period shows how much money it takes to be competitive. Reeves received $2.6 million in contributions during those three months, while Hood got $2.1 million. The fact that the money is being spent literally as soon as it arrives is a signal that both sides expect a close vote.

With three weeks to go before the Nov. 5 election, contributions are still coming in, and it will be interesting to see whether the 2019 governor’s campaign beats the spending record set in 2003 by Haley Barbour and Ronnie Musgrove — which was the last time Mississippi had a competitive general election for the office.

Barbour and Musgrove spent $18 million that year. The Associated Press reported that if Hood and Reeves only spend the money they had on hand Sept. 30, their campaign will come in with a $16 million pricetag.

If the question is whether Hood and Reeves will spend another $2 million between Sept. 30 and Nov. 5 to break the Barbour vs. Musgrove spending record, the answer is, “most likely,” when you consider the amount of money the two campaigns have already received.

As to the larger question — who will win? — Mississippi’s Republican demographics still give an edge to Reeves. He’s got the name recognition of holding statewide office for the past 16 years, including the last eight as lieutenant governor.

Reeves is almost certain to get a last-minute boost through a visit from President Trump, and his resistance to virtually all new taxes is sure to have an appeal to Mississippi voters who have shown themselves willing to make election decisions against their economic interests.

But if anybody can upend the GOP’s dominance of state politics, it’s Hood, who regularly fought off Republican challengers for his job as the attorney general. Hood has been the only Democrat in statewide office and has run up a surprisingly large majority of votes each time he’s been on the ballot. He has name recognition, too.

Hood’s campaign has released two polls in recent weeks that showed their man with a slight lead over Reeves, and the lieutenant governor is rightly concerned about it — to the point that last week he released a detailed proposal to raise teacher pay to regional averages over the next four years. If it ever happens, it would be a huge turnaround by Reeves, who often brags about holding the line on spending.

Jack Ryan, Enterprise-Journal