Poll finds dead heat in Mississippi governor's race

Poll finds dead heat in Mississippi governor's race
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Two titans of Mississippi politics are statistically tied in the race for governor, a new survey shows, highlighting what will be one of the marquee matchups in what might otherwise be a quiet political year.

The survey, conducted by the nonpartisan firm Mason-Dixon Polling and Strategy, finds Attorney General Jim Hood (D) holding a slim two-point lead over Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves (R), 44 percent to 42 percent, a statistically insignificant edge in a poll with a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

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If retired Supreme Court Justice Bill Waller runs as an independent, Hood would cling to a similarly insignificant 40 percent to 38 percent lead over Reeves. Waller takes 9 percent of the vote in that scenario.

The margin is slightly smaller for Hood, who has served as attorney general since 2004, from other Mason-Dixon surveys conducted in the last year.

Neither Hood nor Reeves are particularly well-known among Magnolia State voters. Just 51 percent say they know enough about Hood to have formed an opinion; 38 percent see him favorably, and 13 percent unfavorable. Reeves is seen favorably by 29 percent, while 15 percent see him in an unfavorable light.

In the head-to-head matchup, Hood leads Reeves among women, respondents under 50 years old, those who identify as independents and among African American voters. Reeves holds leads among male voters, older voters and among whites.

Mississippi is a deeply conservative state that long favored Southern Democrats before Republicans began winning state offices in the 1980s and 1990s.

The state has not sent a Democrat to the U.S. Senate since John Stennis won reelection in 1982. Republicans won control of the state legislature in 2011, for the first time since Reconstruction.

Hood is the most recent Democrat to hold statewide office, and he is seeking to become the first Democratic governor of the state since Ronnie Musgrove (D) left office in 2004. Hood ended the year with about $1 million in his campaign account.

Reeves, a close ally of former Gov. Haley Barbour (R), has spent the last eight years as lieutenant governor under term-limited Gov. Phil Bryant (R). Reeves ended 2018 with a whopping $7 million in the bank.

The Mason-Dixon survey showed Reeves with a huge lead over state Rep. Robert Foster (R), the only other Republican who has said he will run for governor. 

The Mason-Dixon poll surveyed 625 registered voters from Jan. 30-Feb. 1. A subsample of 400 likely Republican primary voters carried a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percentage points.

Mississippi is one of three states that will elect a governor this year. Though all three states are deep red territory at the federal level, they will all likely be competitive races. 

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) will face the winner of a contested Republican primary after more prominent contenders like Sen. John KennedyJohn Neely KennedyMORE (R) and Attorney General Jeff Landry (R) declined to run.

In Kentucky, Gov. Matt Bevin (R) faces a challenge from Attorney General Andy Beshear (D), the front-runner in the Democratic primary. Bevin’s poll numbers have been weak even in a state that has shifted decidedly toward Republicans in recent years.