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Dem running for Mississippi governor: Help ‘least among us’

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi’s Democratic attorney general on Wednesday launched his 2019 campaign for governor of one of the poorest states in the nation, citing the biblical mandate to help the needy.

“Jesus taught us to fight for the poor and the elderly and the widows and the children — the least among us,” Jim Hood said in announcing his candidacy in his hometown of Houston, Mississippi.

Hood is the only Democrat currently holding statewide office in Mississippi. He criticized the Republican-led Legislature for enacting corporate tax cuts and said he wants to improve the state economy so young people won’t have to move away to pursue higher salaries.

He was joined on the steps of the Chickasaw County Courthouse by his wife Debbie and a diverse group of about 20 supporters, including two black state lawmakers. Another 150 or so watched from the courthouse lawn.

Hood enters the race with solid name recognition after winning four terms as the state’s top legal officer. However, he starts at a financial disadvantage.

Republican Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves is also expected run for governor and had $5.4 million in campaign cash at the end of 2017, to Hood’s $656,400, according to the most recent finance reports, which were filed in January. Hood said he has about $750,000 now.

Republicans have held the governor’s office in Mississippi for six of the past seven terms. Republican Gov. Phil Bryant cannot seek re-election because of a two-term limit.

Hood said he wants Mississippi to enact a statewide pre-kindergarten program, though he did not say how much it would cost. He said current leaders have done too little to improve education, keep rural hospitals open and spur economic growth.

“We’ve got to build an economy where we can have our children stay here,” Hood said.

Mississippi’s population is just under 3 million, but figures released by the Census Bureau in December showed that the state lost population three years in a row. From July 2016 to July 2017, the net decrease was about 1,300 people. There were about 6,500 more births than deaths in Mississippi during that year, but about 8,000 people moved to other places. West Virginia and Illinois were the only states that have lost population for more consecutive years than Mississippi.

Only slightly more than half of the people who graduate from Mississippi’s eight public universities are still working in the state five years after they graduate, according to a report prepared for the state College Board in 2016. Those most likely to leave were in engineering, math and physical sciences, where paychecks are likely to be larger.

Reeves has said the retention numbers for graduates are not as bad as they look because many students come from other states to attend college in Mississippi and they could be returning home once they earn their degrees.

Reeves was among the Republican state leaders speaking Tuesday night at a rally President Donald Trump held in northern Mississippi’s DeSoto County to push for a strong GOP turnout in next month’s midterm congressional elections. Reeves used the same message he’s likely to use against Hood in the coming year.

“Democrats believe that they’ve got something going on here in Mississippi,” Reeves said. “Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi and their friends — they think they have a chance here. You see, they got ’em a Democrat governor in Louisiana, they got ’em a Democrat senator in Alabama and they don’t believe that there’s a difference between Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama…. Let us send this message to the liberals all over the country: Not in our state.”