/Rankin County ‘kingmaker’ Hometown boy Tate Reeves not a sure thing in runoff with Bill Waller

Rankin County ‘kingmaker’ Hometown boy Tate Reeves not a sure thing in runoff with Bill Waller

If you are a Republican running to be statewide, you should stop by the monthly breakfast hosted in Rankin County by Irl Dean. Rhodes, 82 is the coordinator of a group consisting of local power brokers. They meet once a month for politics and breakfast for 16 years in the county that has the most Republican voters in Mississippi. All 12 GOP candidates for statewide office who are running in the contested primaries have attended Rhodes’ breakfast at McClain lodge in Brandon this year. Some have been there more than once. Candidates know what is at stake when they step through the doors. Although Rhodes and the more than 100 other regular attendees do not publicly endorse candidates for office, their whispers of support echo throughout the important Republican hotbed. Rhodes smiled and said that they have never supported a candidate. Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves was born in Rankin County and knows the importance of Rhodes’ monthly breakfast. Reeves is the second term lieutenant governor, and long-time front-runner for the 2019 governor’s election. He has been to two Rhodes events this year. Reeves visited Rhodes just two days after he announced his candidacy to be governor. He did some politicking prior to the breakfast group, which has come to be affectionately known as the “Rankin County Mafia.” They are my friends! Reeves tweeted Jan. 5: “Thank you!” Reeves tweeted Jan. 5. “Yes!” Rhodes said he had not publicly endorsed Reeves nor any other candidate. He also stated that Rankin County residents don’t seem to be too optimistic about Reeves’ chances and that Reeves will lose if there is a runoff. Rhodes stated that he believes Tate will win Rankin County with a slim majority but not like the results of Michael Guest (a U.S. Congressman and Rankin County native), who received 82 percent. Rhodes listed the complaints he has heard from residents of Rankin County about Reeves. Rhodes stated that road builders, teachers in public schools, and workers in the health care industry are the most vocal opponents to Reeves. Rhodes stated that forecasting Republican primaries to be governor was not difficult. He added that this year’s election “is a hard one.” “I think this election will be closer than people think,” Rhodes said. This was a reference to Rhodes’ continued involvement in county politics as well as his many run-ins against the law in 1980s. Longtime Mississippi columnist Bill Minor in 2001 wrote that Rhodes, while he was Rankin County chancery clerk had “pocketed more money than any county official ever in Mississippi history.” Rhodes was indicted on 12 counts of federal tax evasion and pleaded guilty in 1981. This made him the focal point of corruption in local government in Mississippi. Ray Mabus, then the state auditor, had targeted many local officials throughout the state. On the same day that all five Rankin County Supervisors resigned in 1988 Rhodes was indicted for 12 counts of embezzlement. In the Rankin County court, he was not convicted. When Mabus ran for governor three years later, Rhodes backed Republican candidate Kirk Fordice. Fordice defeated Mabus with the support of a large number votes from Rankin County. Rhodes has been involved in Rankin County politics for 62 years, so he is familiar with the Republican hotbed. This means that he also knows Reeves very well. Rhodes believes that a small majority in his county could mean trouble for Reeves. He’s running against Robert Foster (a DeSoto County first-term representative) and Bill Waller Jr. (ex-chief justice of the Mississippi Supreme Court). In the November general election, the winner of the GOP primaries will likely face Democratic Attorney-General Jim Hood. Reeves has been discussing with his supporters the possibility of an August 27 runoff, if Reeves does not win more than 50% of the vote. Waller is well-known in the Jackson metropolitan area and Rankin County. He has always polled second among the three candidates. Foster claims that he has gained momentum over the past weeks following what was called a strong performance in July 23rd’s only GOP debate. National attention was also garnered after he refused to allow Larrison Campbell, a Mississippi Today reporter, access because she is a female. Experts believe that Foster’s late run would draw votes away from Reeves and open the door for Waller to runoff. Rhodes voted against Waller when asked what he thought would happen in a runoff between Reeves & Waller. Rhodes stated that if it goes to a second round, Waller will beat Tate. They say that money is the mother’s milk in politics. You’ll likely see Waller get a lot of money and help in a runoff. I would give the crown to Waller. Many people don’t like Tate.”