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Runoff candidates need to keep voters motivated

Mississippi candidates working toward Aug. 27 party primary runoffs have two important tasks: keep the base motivated and find new voters.

People that day will determine the Republican nominees for two statewide offices — governor and attorney general.

The slate of Democratic statewide nominees is set, either because candidates were unopposed or because they won a primary Aug. 6. Attorney General Jim Hood easily defeated seven candidates to win the Democratic nomination for governor, capturing about 69 percent of the primary vote.

Among the people voting for Hood was Tim Speech of Jackson, a 42-year-old public school teacher and basketball coach. Outside the New Hope Baptist Church precinct in Jackson, Speech said he believes Hood has “some good things planned” for educators.

“I look for us to become more competitive with the pay in the Southeast region,” Speech said. “I feel like we should definitely adequately fund education. I feel like we have made some strides, but we have a ways to go.”

Willie Webster, 75, of Jackson also voted for Hood.

“I really think he’ll be for everybody and not just one group,” Webster said. “Black, white, Mexican — he’ll do the right thing. Don’t push one group to try to do stuff for.”

Mary Myles, 67, was among the minority of African Americans voters at the New Hope precinct who cast a ballot in the Republican primary. She said she backed Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves for governor because she saw him as the “most experienced” and because Bryant and the National Rifle Association had endorsed him.

At a precinct in the Jackson suburb of Ridgeland, retired teacher Sara Caldwell, 88, said she voted in the Republican primary, choosing former Mississippi Supreme Court Justice Bill Waller Jr. for governor. She said Waller seems to have a more detailed plan than Reeves to pay for highway improvements: Waller has said the state should consider increasing the gasoline tax, while Reeves opposes that.

Caldwell’s daughter lives near the Mississippi Gulf Coast, and Caldwell has had to take a longer route to drive there the past two years because a bridge on a state highway has been closed. She said she’s not thrilled about paying a higher gas tax. “But, if that is what it takes, I’ll do it,” Caldwell said. “We desperately need some roads and bridges.”

Thomas Martin, 26, is a physical education teacher at a private elementary school in Jackson. He lives and votes in the Jackson suburb of Madison and said he chose Reeves for governor.

“I feel like he holds a lot of the values that we hold,” Martin said.

Martin said it’s important to him that Reeves supports President Donald Trump and that Republican Gov. Phil Bryant endorsed Reeves.

Keith Tarbutton, 65, is self-employed delivery person who lives in Madison. He said he voted in the Republican primary for governor, selecting first-term state Rep. Robert Foster.

“He’s conservative. He’s supposedly a businessman and he doesn’t have a lot of ties to the government right now,” Tarbutton said. “He’s got a few fresh ideas.”

Foster was eliminated from the governor’s race after receiving about 18 percent statewide in the Republican primary. Reeves received about 49 percent and Waller received about 33 percent.

Foster received the most votes in his home county, DeSoto, and in neighboring Tate County. Waller prevailed in Lafayette County and sparsely populated Sharkey County and in the three counties in the metro Jackson area — Hinds, Madison and Rankin. Reeves won the other counties, doing especially well in the Hancock, Harrison, and Jackson counties.

Mississippi has one restriction about voting in runoffs: A person who voted in one party’s primary may not vote in the other party’s runoff.

People who did not vote on Aug. 6 may vote on Aug. 27.

The Associated Press’ Jeff Amy contributed to this report.

Emily Wagster Pettus has covered Mississippi government and politics since 1994. Follow her on Twitter: http://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus.