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Trump Rallies For Republicans In Mississippi


The president is working Southern states with governors' races on the ballot this year. Last night - Mississippi. Mr. Trump rallied in Tupelo with Republican Tate Reeves, lieutenant governor, who's in a tighter-than-expected race against the Democrat Jim Hood, the state's longtime attorney general.

NPR's Debbie Elliott was at the rally, joins us from Tupelo. How are you, Debbie?

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: I'm good. How are you, Scott?

SIMON: Fine. Thank you. And what was the president's message there in Tupelo?

ELLIOTT: You know, that a victory for Tate Reeves on Tuesday would be sending a direct message to the, quote, "radical left, crazy Democrats who are out to impeach him." He talked a lot about the House impeachment inquiry, calling it an attack on democracy itself. But he also zeroed in on Reeves' opponent, Jim Hood.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: If you don't want a far-left Democrat running Mississippi - wait a minute. How's this guy - you know, I can't believe this is a competitive race. It's, like, embarrassing. I'm talking to Mississippi, you know? I'm talking to Mississippi. I can't believe it.

SIMON: Debbie, how does this become a tight race?

ELLIOTT: You know, Mississippi is typically very reliable Republican territory. You have to remember Trump beat Hillary Clinton here roughly 60-40. Republican Tate Reeves is the lieutenant governor who emerged from a really tough primary. Hood is the attorney general, is the lone Democrat to hold statewide office. And he's held it for quite a time now. He's well-known.

Reeves is certainly the favorite, but he struggled to generate a lot of enthusiasm in some circles. He also has a reputation for being hard-nosed as lieutenant governor, which is a very powerful position in Mississippi. So he's got some enemies even within his own party. He's trying to combat all that by assuring voters that he is Trump's man in Mississippi. Here he is last night.


TATE REEVES: When the choice was Donald J. Trump or crooked Hillary, Jim Hood stood with Hillary Clinton.


REEVES: And today, with the election just days away, I'm standing with President Donald Trump.

SIMON: Lieutenant Governor Tate Reeves.

Jim Hood - once more we'll mention he's Mississippi's attorney general. How's he respond to attacks like that?

ELLIOTT: You know, he claims that Tate Reeves is resorting to labels because he doesn't have a good plan to move Mississippi forward. And he - Hood has also sort of tried to show that he's aligned with Mississippi voters on issues like gun rights and the state's restrictive anti-abortion laws, which he has defended. His ads feature him with his pickup truck, his rifle and his hunting dog, Buck. You know, he's trying to show he's of the people, right?

So yesterday in Tupelo, he had a news conference ahead of Trump's visit and said, you know, Mississippi voters have voted for him for the last 16 years and know his record.


JIM HOOD: People here know that I'm not a liberal. They know I'm a moderate.

ELLIOTT: So it's telling that Trump came here to Tupelo in the northern hills of Mississippi. Hood lives close by. He has proven he can win in this part of the state in typically Republican districts. A Trump campaign spokesperson said to me last night that there is a strategy and a reason why Trump came here.

SIMON: And could you tell how voters, or at least those you've been able to speak with, have responded to the president's attempt to link himself to the lieutenant governor's campaign?

ELLIOTT: It was a very adoring crowd, and they responded with enthusiasm when the president talked about Tate Reeves. I spoke with Amy Hoffman (ph) of Columbus who says this rally is just what was needed to fire up GOP voters.

AMY HOFFMAN: Oh, tremendous, happy, smiling Republicans - America-loving, Southern-loving. We're just one big, great family that wants the best for America, the best for the South, the best for Mississippi.

ELLIOTT: So we'll find out if that's enough to keep Mississippi's governorship in Republican hands come Tuesday.

SIMON: NPR's Debbie Elliott, thanks so much.

ELLIOTT: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR National Correspondent Debbie Elliott can be heard telling stories from her native South. She covers the latest news and politics, and is attuned to the region's rich culture and history.