Thursday, August 18, 2011
Many factors contributed to Reeves’ win
Against my better judgment, I bet against both conventional wisdom and Lamar Hooker. Now I owe him dinner at Walker’s. At least he doesn’t drink.
Lamar, who seems to know everyone in the state of Mississippi (and their skeletons), picked Tate Reeves. I picked Billy Hewes. I demanded odds, but Lamar wouldn’t budge.
The false logic of my bet was simple: Mississippi is a traditional, conservative state. The voters will go for the older candidate with more experience. What went wrong?
I have posed this question to numerous politically savvy friends and now have a clearer understanding of my bad wager. As usual the devil is in the details.
My first mistake was looking at the race from my perspective and not from the perspective of a typical voter. Being in the news business, I keep up with politics far more than most people. As a result, a 20-year state senator such as Billy Hewes is well-known to me.
Not so for most Mississippians. They may know their senator and representative, but few Mississippians without a dog in the hunt could name many others, especially those from the faraway coast. I simply underestimated basic name recognition.
Some of my sources were pretty cynical about the crude level of Mississippi name recognition. Many voters, they said, feel a civic obligation to vote but have little idea who the candidates are. These voters will literally vote for any name they recognize. Having been on the state ballot twice before was a huge advantage for Reeves.
I also underestimated the weight of what one friend called “institutional heft.” Eight years as state treasurer gave Reeves a platform. The state has spent millions marketing its pre-paid college tuition plan. Reeves figured prominently in all those marketing campaigns. Hewes was not only outspent in the campaign, he was outspent in the eight years prior to the campaign.
One knowledgeable source told me Hewes made a fatal flaw by naming his committee chairman in advance. “That made no sense whatsoever. He showed his hand.” No doubt Hewes was attempting to solidify allies by the move, but better to keep them guessing. For every person Hewes named to chair a committee, there were five more who may have thought they had a chance. Once these hopefuls learned they were snubbed, Hewes completely lost their support.
This really backfired in DeSoto County - one of the crucial counties for any Republican and a county where Reeves beat Hewes handily.
Hewes announced that DeSoto Sen. Doug Davis would continue as head of the appropriations committee. No doubt, Hewes expected this to help his cause in DeSoto.
As it turned out, Davis was defeated in a stunning upset, in part by irate teachers who blamed Davis (and Hewes) for cutting public school funding. Public schools are strong in DeSoto and anyone seen against them is the enemy.
This is where having to vote publicly can come back to haunt you in a campaign. It’s one reason governors win the presidency far more than senators or congressmen. Hewes had to defend a lot of tough votes during tough times. As treasurer, Reeves was far less exposed.
By all accounts, Hewes and Reeves were both considered bright, capable, good fellows. But Reeves was born and raised in Rankin County - a crucial Republican County - where he had a favorite son advantage.
Madison and northeast Jackson also have a lot of Republicans, but many in northeast Jackson (me included) were voting in the Democratic primary to support Malcolm McMillin. Madison Republicans had gotten to know Reeves during his eight-year tenure in the metro area. Mississippi is a small state and face time is important.
I spent a day with Reeves on a bank outing not long ago. He is very bright and capable. It’s reassuring to see good people in powerful positions.
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