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NEMS Daily Journal - GOP primary key in battle for No. 2 post

Location: Jackson, MS

By Bobby Harrison

Mississippi's next lieutenant governor will almost certainly be an incumbent Republican officeholder who touts himself as a fiscal and social conservative.

The winner of the Aug. 2 Republican primary between Senate President Pro Tem Billy Hewes of Gulfport and Treasurer Tate Reeves of the Jackson area will not face a Democratic foe in November. No Democrat filed to run for the post, which wields considerable power as the Senate's presiding office and first in line of gubernatorial succession.

"The Republican primary is for the whole shooting match in that race," said Marty Wiseman, director of the Stennis Institute of Government at Mississippi State University.

The winner of the Aug. 2 party primary will face November general election opposition from Reform Party candidate Tracella Lou O'Hara of Terry, but third-party candidates have not historically done well in Mississippi.

Both candidates, knowing the Aug. 2 party primary is essentially for all the marbles, have been campaigning hard. Both have run television ads touting not only their conservative principles, but also highlighting members of their families.

A recent poll showed Reeves with a commanding 51-18 percent lead over Hewes, though one-third of potential Republican Party primary voters were still undecided.

Wiseman pointed out the winner of the race will fill the powerful post of lieutenant governor without a substantial portion of the state's voting population casting a vote in the contest. While the percentage of people voting in the Republican primary has been consistently growing, it is believed that a majority will vote in the Democratic primary on Aug. 2.

"It's like it used to be when the winner of the Democratic primary won the election," Wiseman said. One key difference is that then practically everyone in the state voted in the Democratic primary.

People who vote in the Democratic primary will, of course, have an opportunity to vote in the lieutenant governor's election in November, but by then for all practical purposes, the election will have been decided.

Most of the votes in the Republican primary are expected to come from about 12 of the state's more populous, generally suburban counties.

Reeves' big lead can be attributed in part to the fact he has run and won two past statewide races for treasurer. Reeves, then 28, was a political unknown when he won the open seat of treasurer in 2003.

Hewes, 49, has served in the Senate, representing the Gulfport area, since 1992. He is in his first term as Senate president pro tem, having been elected to the post unanimously by his colleagues in January 2008. As pro tem he presides over the Senate in the absence of the lieutenant governor.

Hewes has relied to an extent during the campaign on his legislative experience as a plus that would be beneficial as the presiding officer of the Senate.

As treasurer, Reeves has at times been critical of the spending habits of the Legislature.

Based on campaign finance reports filed with the Secretary of State's office on May 10, Reeves has $2.1 million in cash on hand for the stretch run. Hewes had $1.2 million, including $250,000 in loans.

Hewes said recently, "We are on pace to win this race, as folks are responding to our message of strong family values, smaller and smarter government, conservative, business-minded experience and proven leadership."

Reeves also is confident.

"I'm proud to say that we've now received contributions from all 82 counties in Mississippi, and our success is entirely due to the strong level of grassroots support we enjoy across the state," he said.

The winner will replace Republican Phil Bryant, who is running for governor.

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