Contentious Mississippi GOP primary race for lieutenant governor exposes rift among conservatives

A Republican primary challenger spent months telling people that first-term Mississippi Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann is insufficiently conservative and labeling him “Delbert the Democrat.”

That tactic fell short in Tuesday’s GOP primary as Hosemann defeated the challenger, state Sen. Chris McDaniel, in a contentious race that exposed rifts among conservative voters and Republicans in the Mississippi Senate.

During this year’s campaign, Hosemann called McDaniel a “pathological liar.” Both men largely ignored the primary’s third candidate, educator Tiffany Longino, who ran a low-budget campaign and received a small share of the vote in her first try for public office.

In his victory speech late Tuesday, Hosemann said shady groups spent almost a million dollars of undocumented money to support McDaniel of Ellisville in the final days of the campaign, and he said the spending “screams for reform.”

Mississippi lieutenant governors wield considerable power: They preside over the 52-member state Senate, appoint Senate committee leaders and have influence over which bills live or die. Republicans will continue to hold a majority in the chamber next term.

Hosemann, who previously served three terms as secretary of state, said Mississippi state government is in its best financial shape ever. He is already looking to the new four-year term.

“We’re going to take it to new heights,” he told supporters at a party in Jackson. “That bright, shining star — that bright, shining city on the hill — is going to be achieved by Mississippi, by the people in this room and all of us working together.”

Hosemann’s opponent in the Nov. 7 general election is Hattiesburg business consultant D. Ryan Grover, who ran unopposed for the Democratic nomination. Grover has never held public office and by the end of July, had raised no campaign money.

While McDaniel received support from a few Senate colleagues, most of the GOP senators publicly backed Hosemann.

This was the third statewide loss for McDaniel, who’s now completing his fourth term in the Legislature.

“I have seen so much in my 16 years, and perhaps the most difficult thing I’ve seen is that the toll it takes on the soul serving in the Capitol,” McDaniel said at a subdued gathering of supporters in Biloxi shortly before conceding. “We all start as strong people, it seems, but then ultimately the power whittles away at our souls and changes who we are. Look, I’m not built for that.”

The election-night concession was a sharp contrast to McDaniel’s first statewide race in 2014, when he refused to acknowledge his loss to longtime U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran in a Republican primary runoff, even going to court in an unsuccessful effort to toss out some votes.

John Hrom of Madison, a retired business executive, said he has known Hosemann for years and voted for him Tuesday.

Hrom said the 2014 Senate race soured him on McDaniel. Cochran’s wife, who had dementia, was living in a Madison nursing home. Some McDaniel supporters snuck into her room and took video of her without the family’s permission. Images of her briefly appeared online in a campaign video that criticized Cochran.

McDaniel said he had nothing to do with the filming and called the violation of Rose Cochran’s privacy “ reprehensible,” but Hrom said he holds McDaniel responsible.

“I said to myself then, I don’t care if that guy came in and gave me a million dollars a week, I would never vote for him,” Hrom said.

Hosemann and his supporters said McDaniel often failed to show up for work in the Senate. That criticism didn’t sit well with Isiah Conner Jr., a mail handler, who voted in the Republican primary in Flowood and said he chose McDaniel over Hosemann.

“I like the way he carries himself a little bit better,” Conner said of McDaniel. “Don’t just make commercials about somebody saying they’re not doing anything. Treat them like a man.”

McDaniel, in labeling the incumbent “Delbert the Democrat,” said Hosemann should not have appointed some Democrats to lead Senate committees.

Bonnie Porter of Madison, a retired federal employee who voted for Hosemann, praised his bipartisan efforts.

“He’s willing to work with Democrats across the aisle,” Porter said. “I think that’s good for the state.”

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