MERIDIAN — Interesting tidbits from the Republican primary runoff won by Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves by a 54% to 46% margin over former Supreme Court Chief Justice Bill Waller:
In 2015, the runoff vote total was 54% of the first primary total. This year that percentage jumped to 87%.
The GOP runoff total of nearly 325,000 votes even topped the nearly 290,000 Democratic vote total in the first primary. Remember, the Republican first primary vote total of nearly 375,000 had topped Democratic primary turnout for the first time
Tate Reeves retained nearly 97% of his 183,000 first primary vote in the runoff. Waller increased his 125,000 vote total by 120% (based on unofficial returns).
Waller once again beat Reeves in his home county, Rankin.
As expected, the real margin in the race came from rural counties. Of the big 12 counties that provide most Republican votes, Reeves carried seven, with Waller winning five. The net margin in those counties was 8,622 votes. Reeves won 59 of the other 70 rural counties; Waller 11. That padded Reeves’ margin by another 19,150 votes.
Mississippi Today reported Reeves spent at least $6.2 million of his campaign war chest to get by Waller. In comparison, Waller raised and spent about $1.4 million. The newspaper estimated Reeves’ balance after the primary to be down to about $3 million.
During the waning days of the runoff, a skirmish between former and more recent Republican Party chairmen erupted.
Former chairmen Jim Herring, Billy Powell, Mike Retzer and Clarke Reed castigated more recent chairmen Joe Nosef, Arnie Hederman and Brad White for promulgating a letter that labeled Waller a Democrat. That’s “reckless and wrong” said the former chairmen. Waller had been endorsed by party leaders and hailed as a conservative when running for the state Supreme Court.
In his victory speech Reeves moved to try to heal differences. “I am determined to bring this party together in November,” he said. “A lot of good people voted for him (Waller) today, and what I want to say is this: I heard you.”
In March, 31 hospitals located in 30 counties were identified to be at risk of closing. Waller made saving these hospitals a key issue in his campaign. But Reeves carried 29 of those counties.
Still, Reeves felt the need to tell his victory audience, “If you believe in helping our rural hospitals and doing it in a smart and conservative way, then you need to join our team.”
Last October, the Mississippi Office of State Aid Road Construction identified 17 counties with significant bridge closures due to structural deficiencies. Bill Waller made addressing road and bridge problems another key issue in his campaign. But Reeves carried all 17 of these counties.
Still, Reeves told his victory audience, “If you believe we need to fix our roads and keep our economy strong, hear me out.”
Addressing another Waller priority, he added, “If you believe we need to raise teacher pay and balance our budget, come with me,” then concluded, “let’s do it together.”
Reeves will need those Waller voters to join him in November to beat Attorney General Jim Hood, the Democratic nominee.
• Bill Crawford is a Republican former state lawmaker from Meridian.