Robert Foster on Tuesday endorsed Bill Waller Jr., his former competitor in the Republican gubernatorial primary, with two weeks remaining before Waller’s runoff against Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves.
Foster finished third and was eliminated in last week’s GOP primary. But he played a major role in the three-way race, earning 18 percent of the vote against better-known and better-funded candidates in Waller and Reeves.
On Tuesday in his hometown of Hernando, Foster voiced strong support for Waller, calling him a man of “honor and integrity.” The winner of the Aug. 27 GOP runoff will advance to face Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood in the Nov. 5 general election.
“There are some bigger picture issues out there facing our state — we are not last place for no reason at all,” Foster said of why he chose Waller, referencing the state’s current leadership under Reeves. “It’s because we have policies in place in Jackson that keep us in last place.”
In last week’s primary, Reeves won 49 percent of the vote and Waller, a former state Supreme Court justice, took 33 percent. Foster, a first-term state lawmaker who ran as a conservative political outsider, received about 66,000 votes.
Waller’s campaign hopes Foster’s supporters rally to his side. An especially large number of voters are up for grabs in Foster’s home county of DeSoto, where he won with 48 percent support, or 10,500 votes, compared to Waller’s 12 percent, or 2,600 votes.
‘We’ve got to have new leadership’
Waller also attended Foster’s endorsement announcement in Hernando. Both men then traveled around the state, with stops in Gulfport, Hattiesburg and Jackson. They touted Foster’s support for Waller and discussed the issues.
Waller praised Foster as “one of the best and brightest” in state politics, adding Foster would help advise his run. “He and I agree on a lot of things — we agree that Mississippi needs to do better,” Waller said.
“We’ve got to have new leadership, and some fresh ideas to come in, and shake things up a little bit, or we’re never going to get there,” Foster said of why he backed Waller over Reeves.
From the start, Foster’s campaign platform appeared more aligned with Waller than Reeves. Both support a version of Medicaid expansion supported by previous Indiana Gov. Mike Pence. Both often pushed teacher pay raises as an issue on the campaign trail. And they said they were open to a gasoline tax increase to fund Mississippi’s crumbling roads and bridges. In exchange, both advocated for an income tax cut.
Reeves is endorsed by Republican Gov. Phil Bryant. On Monday, his campaign also announced an endorsement by Petal Mayor Hal Marx, whom Reeves called “a loyal conservative” and a “conservative stalwart in the Pine Belt region.” Marx briefly jumped in the gubernatorial race last year before dropping out due to family health issues.
Reeves in recent days launched a television ad questioning Waller’s conservative qualifications. Waller shot back Tuesday with his own ad, comparing Reeves to an out-of-control child at a birthday party.
Foster defended Waller’s policy positions Tuesday. Reeves, he said, had spent significant campaign money trying to “destroy our message, by trying to attach us to saying we’re supportive of Obamacare, or raising taxes. And the reality of the situation is, that’s not true, for either one of us.
Waller goes after Reeves in Hattiesburg
Later in the day, during a joint appearance in Hattiesburg at a health care clinic, Waller responded to Reeves’ recent attacks about him not being conservative. He also said Reeves was part of the “swamp,” and it was time for him to go.
“Facts are that I have a very conservative base,” Waller said. “If you look at my endorsements, I have four prior chairs of the (state) Republican party that were there when it started — before my opponent was born. They think I’m conservative. They think I’m good for the party. But the bigger issue — they think I can win in November.”
Waller also mentioned his primary wins in Reeves’ home county, Rankin, and nearby suburban counties of Hinds and Madison. “I think that’s important. I think if you go in in November, you’ve got to at least carry your home county,” Waller said.
Waller said in the two weeks before the runoff he plans to take advantage of Foster’s endorsement.
“He did a wonderful job with his campaign,” Waller said. “We’ll be competitive.”