PHILADELPHIA, Miss. — Candidates for Mississippi governor spoke to rowdy crowds Thursday at the Neshoba County Fair — one of the biggest political gatherings in a rural state where stump speaking is a spectator sport.
Days before party primaries, campaigns brought their own supporters to the sawdust-strewn fairgrounds in the red clay hills of east central Mississippi. Partisans sat on long wooden pews beneath a tin-roofed pavilion. As overhead fans stirred the muggy summer air, people cheered their favorites and sometimes booed the opposition.
Republican Tate Reeves said he’s running for governor because he believes Mississippi is on the right track and he’s proud of tax cuts the state enacted while he has been lieutenant governor and Republican Phil Bryant has been governor.
“You know how to spend your money better than any governmental entity ever will,” Reeves said.
He criticized Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jim Hood, the current attorney general.
“Jim Hood thinks the Bryant-Reeves tax cuts was a mistake,” Reeves said. “Jim Hood thinks the Trump tax cut was a mistake. Hell, Jim Hood thinks the fact that we have President Trump is a mistake.”
Reeves — who faces former Mississippi Supreme Court Justice Bill Waller Jr. and state Rep. Robert Foster in Tuesday’s GOP primary — repeated the central theme of his campaign: Conservatives are not each other’s enemies.
“Our political enemy is the liberal policy ideas of the party of Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi and Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton and Jim Hood,” Reeves said.
Speaking moments earlier, Hood said Republicans have given away money through corporate tax breaks while Mississippi needs to improve schools and roads and to keep rural hospitals open.
“You’re going to hear them get up here and talk about some liberals up in Washington. … When they start talking about labels and not about issues, there’s something going on there, and it’s something that you need to look through,” Hood said.
Hood said he spoke to Democratic and Republican lawmakers before deciding to run for governor.
“A lot of Republicans encouraged me to run,” Hood said. “They don’t see me as partisan either way.”
Hood faces seven candidates, including Hinds County District Attorney Robert Shuler Smith and retired Jackson State University administrator Velesha P. Williams, in the Democratic primary. Hood said he assumes that if he is elected governor, the Legislature will be conservative.
“No crazy laws or liberal stuff is going to get passed in that Legislature,” Hood said.
Waller held up a map that proposes new highways in Mississippi. Although Reeves said a new state lottery will help pay for roads and bridges, Waller said the lottery will not generate enough money. Waller proposes increasing the gasoline tax and again reducing the personal income tax.
Waller said he wants to “make Mississippi roads great again.”
“We need a big program,” Waller said of highways. “We need some excitement out there. Who wants some excitement?”
Waller supporters cheered and waved signs.
Foster proposes increasing the gas tax and eliminating the personal income tax. He also said he would continue to oppose abortion and support gun rights. He said he’s not bothered by not receiving a National Rifle Association endorsement because his permit to carry a concealed weapon is endorsement enough.
“If I’m wearing pants, I’m packing,” Foster said.
Williams said Mississippi struggles in education and health measurements but politicians make conditions sound rosy.
“Are you going to believe what they say?” Williams said. “Or are you going to believe what you see and feel every day?”
Smith said Mississippi farmers need a chance to legally grown marijuana.
“It’s time to build one Mississippi for all people,” Smith said.