The qualifying deadline for statewide, district, legislative, and local candidates is February 27. At this writing, four of the eight statewide incumbents have qualified for re-election. They are State Treasurer Lynn Fitch, State Auditor Stacey Pickering, Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney, and Commissioner of Agriculture Cindy Hyde-Smith. That leaves Gov. Phil Bryant, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, Attorney General Jim Hood, and Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann as the four who have not filed their qualifying papers for re-election. There’s no question that at some point before the deadline Bryant and Reeves will qualify to seek re-election, which leads to some speculation regarding the 2015 plans for Hood and Hosemann.
Although Pickering has qualified to seek another term as auditor, you might also put a question mark by his name. It is no secret that Pickering has told numerous people that he would like a higher paying job in either the private sector or even state government. The state job most often mentioned is that of commissioner of the Department of Revenue, which pays about $50,000 more per year than he makes as auditor. The term of Ed Morgan, the current commissioner of the department, expires in June of 2016. Current rumors speculate that Pickering could withdraw his qualifying papers, take a job in the private sector for a year, and then be appointed by Gov. Bryant to take Morgan’s place next year. That would allow Bryant and tea party favorite (and Chris McDaniel sidekick), state Sen. Michael Watson to run for auditor. The other scenario is that Pickering wins re-election, resigns later to take the Department of Revenue job, and Bryant could appoint Watson to serve out the remainder of Pickering’s term. The engineer for this train would be kingmaker and Bryant insider, Prince Josh Gregory.
The rumors surrounding Attorney General Jim Hood are fueling just as much speculation. Almost every day you hear a different report that Hood will run or not run for re-election. There’s one line of speculation that if Hood does not run for a fourth term, he will give Democrats an advantage by delaying his decision on qualifying. That would allow another trial lawyer like state Rep. David Baria to enter the race with an early jump on possible Republican candidates. In the three terms that he has won as AG, Hood has defeated somewhat weak Republican opponents. The advantage for Democrats if Hood delays his decision is that a stronger Republican candidate might not challenge Hood as an incumbent but would run for an open position. Potentially the strongest Republican candidate for AG, Andy Taggart, has already taken himself off of the list of possible GOP contenders for AG. The same goes for state Rep. Mark Baker of Brandon, who many thought was interested in running for AG.
The last incumbent that has not filed for re-election is Hosemann. Again, there is a daily guessing game that Hosemann will or will not challenge Lt. Gov. Reeves in the GOP primary. Hosemann’s end of year campaign finance report for 2014 shows him with more than $1 million cash on hand. He could use far less than half of that amount and easily win another term as secretary of state. With Phil Bryant an overwhelming favorite to win another term as governor, there’s no doubt that both Hosemann and Reeves would like to succeed Bryant when he leaves office after his second term. The question for Hosemann is whether he should challenge Reeves now or in four years.
Another option for Hosemann is that if Hood does not run for re-election and Hosemann runs for AG, Hosemann would be an odds on favorite to win the race for AG when there is no incumbent. From a political standpoint, it would be better to run against Reeves for governor in 2019 from the post of attorney general than from secretary of state.
There will be a lot of political games being played between now and the Feb. 27 qualifying deadline. And of course, every would-be candidate has the right to wait until the deadline to qualify. I, for one, don’t like deadline games being played that could impact the candidate options that voters will have.