OXFORD — What appeared to be a close general election for Mississippi governor doesn’t seem as likely as it once did.

For at least a year, speculation has been that Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood and Republican Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves would cruise to their respective party’s nomination and face each other in November.

Early polling even had Hood, the Democrat, leading Reeves; somewhat surprising, considering that, with the exception of Hood, Democrats have had no success in statewide races since Haley Barbour defeated Ronnie Musgrove for governor in 2003.

A Hood-Reeves race is still probable. if it turns out that way, it will be a close one.

But they both have a job on their hands to win the nomination. Hood may have a tougher road than Reeves, despite the fact that Reeves probably faces a more qualified opponent than Hood does.

The problem Hood faces is the number of candidates — the majority of whom are mostly unknown — in his primary, coupled with the scenario of contested Republican primaries for down-ticket state offices as well as local elections in Republican-dominated areas.

A lot of voters who otherwise would opt for Hood, even against Reeves, probably won’t vote in the Democratic primary because they prefer to vote for someone running as a Republican for attorney general, sheriff, supervisor or some other office.

I was surprised to learn, after the qualifying deadline passed a few days ago, that nine candidates have qualified to run for governor as Democrats.

The best-known, with the exception of Hood, is Hinds County District Attorney Robert Shuler Smith, who has been the defendant in cases filed by the Attorney General’s Office. Obviously, there’s no love lost between Smith, who has not been convicted of the charges, and Hood.

Others in the race include former Natchez Mayor Phillip West and Velesha Williams, former director of Metro Jackson Community Prevention Coalition at Jackson State University, along with Michael Brown, William Bond Compton Jr., Robert J. Ray, Gregory Wash and Albert Wilson.

Hood, with his statewide identification and track record in winning elections, is still the favorite to win the nomination.

But if a large segment of African-Americans, who will dominate the Democratic primary in most localities, vote against Hood, he could be in trouble.

Smith, West and Williams — who appear to be his best-known opponents — are all African-American.

If the majority of Democratic voters are smart and want a Democrat in the governor’s office, they will nominate Hood, because he is the only one with any chance of defeating a Republican in the general election.

Reeves, meanwhile, faces his own primary fight with former state Supreme Court Chief Justice William Waller Jr. and state Rep. Robert Foster of Hernando.

With his stash of campaign cash and the backing of much of the Mississippi Republican establishment, Reeves is favored to win. But it isn’t a sure thing, and my guess is that some Republicans think Waller would run a better race against Hood than Reeves.

Admittedly, though, that’s all speculation on my part.

At any rate, the qualifying is over, and it’s time to get down to some serious politicking, as if some of them haven’t been doing that year round.

Charles M. Dunagin is the retired editor and publisher of the Enterprise-Journal in McComb. He lives in Oxford.

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