Lt. Gov. primary has clear choices, distinct differences
Published 3:00 am Wednesday, August 2, 2023
By Sid Salter
NESHOBA COUNTY FAIR – Leaving the historic Neshoba County Fairgrounds headed into the Aug. 8 Mississippi primary elections, the marquee race is the choice Republican voters face in the race for lieutenant governor between incumbent Republican Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann and GOP State Sen. Chris McDaniel of Jones County.
Since the outset, the Hosemann-McDaniel race has been exceptionally heated, and the speeches delivered by the two candidates at Neshoba were reflective of the fact that there is not much love lost between the two opponents or their supporters.
Hosemann has been extraordinarily popular with Mississippi voters who have elected him to statewide office four consecutive times (2007, 2011, 2015, and 2019) in general elections and Republican voters statewide have likewise given him strong majorities in his GOP primary races those same years.
In a state where Republican voters care about abortion and gun rights laws, Hosemann has the endorsement of both Right to Life and the National Rifle Association.
Challenging Hosemann is McDaniel, who has represented District 42 in the State Senate since first winning election in 2007 and subsequent races in 2011, 2015, and 2019 (he ran unopposed in 2011 and 2019).
In 2014, McDaniel lost a contentious challenge to then-incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran – nearly pulling off a stunning upset. That challenge came when Cochran was in line to chair the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Cochran was pushed to the limit by McDaniel’s insurgent campaign – a campaign financed largely by out-of-state super political action committees. But in the GOP second primary, Cochran rallied to win the nomination and eventual re-election to his final term in a 45-year career on Capitol Hill that saw him render heroic and historic service to Mississippi and the Gulf South after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
The 2018 U.S. Senate special election race saw McDaniel run third in an open primary race to the ultimate winner U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, who gained the key endorsement of then-President Donald Trump. The self-proclaimed “conservative fighter” earned just 16.7 percent of the vote.
In every statewide Republican primary race and again in the 2018 open primary race, the McDaniel playbook is nothing if not predictable. His opponent always is “not conservative enough” and always fails McDaniel’s political purity test. McDaniel postures as a courageous fighter for conservative values issues and a skilled legislator who can affect real change.
But the reality of the McDaniel legislative record is decidedly different. In almost every one of the four terms (16 years) that McDaniel has sought in the Mississippi Legislature, he’s filed a bill to implement legislative term limits. The bill fails, then he runs for re-election. And as to his supposed legislative superpowers in the State Senate, a study of his actual record shows that McDaniel has rarely been successful in passing substantive legislation.
In the majority of instances in which McDaniel was the principal author of legislation, his Senate colleagues simply allowed his offerings to die in committee. McDaniel was successful in getting resolutions passed honoring school athletic championships or contestants who won pageants. But on balance, there’s been more smooth talk from McDaniel about fighting than actual success.
The 2023 script from McDaniel is familiar. His campaign announcement featured exactly the pitch McDaniel has made before – Hosemann’s insufficiently conservative and fails McDaniel’s conservative purity test.
Why? In part, because Hosemann appointed 13 Senate Democrats as committee chairs. Why? There are 45 Senate committees and 36 Republican senators. Of the Senate’s 16 Democrats, 13 hold chair positions. There were also 13 Democrats chairing committees during Reeves’ final four years as lieutenant governor – but McDaniel’s attacks ignore those facts.
While hammering Hosemann with half-truths about his abortion stance and his governance of the State Senate, McDaniel has dodged significant questions about his campaign finance numbers and his own Senate attendance and performance.
Turnout matters in the Hosemann-McDaniel race. McDaniel voters have proven loyal and motivated in his prior statewide bids, so a low GOP primary turnout would tend to favor McDaniel while a moderate to high turnout favors Hosemann.
Mississippi GOP voters have clear choices in the Hosemann-McDaniel race and distinct differences in how the two candidates will lead and govern.
Sid Salter is a syndicated columnist. Contact him at email@example.com.