Field of Mississippi candidates is set: Each of the 8 statewide officials is challenged



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JACKSON, Mississippi — Each of the eight statewide elected officials in Mississippi has at least one challenger this year, although some of the newcomers might run low-budget campaigns.

Just before candidates' qualifying deadline Friday, a teacher who describes herself as not having "a fancy pedigree or a lot of money" signed up to run against first-term Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves in the Republican primary.

Alisha Nelson McElhenney, who lives in Moss Point and teaches in Alabama, originally filed Thursday to run for a state Senate seat held by Republican Michael Watson of Pascagoula.

There had been widespread speculation that Watson would become a tea party-allied candidate to challenge Reeves in the GOP primary for lieutenant governor. Instead, Watson qualified Thursday to seek a third term in the Senate. After that, McElhenney switched to the lieutenant governor's race Friday.

"Let's stop Common Core. Let's phase out our state income tax," McElhenney said in a news release Friday.

Reeves, who served two terms as state treasurer before he was elected lieutenant governor four years ago, has about $2.4 million in his campaign fund. This is McElhenney's first run for office, and she has not filed a campaign finance report.

As presiding officer of the Senate, Reeves has pushed this year to create a group to study whether Mississippi should distance itself from Common Core academic standards, which seek to teach children to think more analytically and rely less on rote memorization. Some conservatives mistrust the standards, saying they fear Common Core could lead to federal intrusion into state and local education decisions.

Reeves also is pushing a proposal to phase out the business franchise tax and a portion of the state personal-income tax.

In an email to supporters this week, Reeves said he had been endorsed by 28 of the 32 Republican state senators.

"I'm grateful for the support of these men and women who've fought alongside me in the Senate to pass conservative legislation to cut wasteful spending, reduce our debt and enact reform measures to improve education attainment levels in our state," Reeves wrote.

Tim Johnson, who's a former state senator and former Madison County supervisor, switched from Republican to Democrat to run for lieutenant governor. He faces Jelanie Barr of Greenwood in the Democratic primary.

All eight statewide offices, from governor to agriculture commissioner, are on the ballot this year. So are regional offices such as transportation commissioner and all 52 seats in the state Senate and 122 in the state House.

Party primaries are Aug. 4, and the general election is Nov. 3.

Gov. Phil Bryant faces one person in the Republican primary, Mitch Young of Lamar County.

Vicki Slater of Madison, a former president of the state trial lawyers' association, is running as a Democrat for governor. She faces Robert Gray of Jackson, and Valerie Adream Smartt Short of Ridgeland in the party primary.

Independent candidates filed qualifying papers with the secretary of state's office. After the 5 p.m. Friday filing deadline, the agency's website showed some independents running for district attorney or legislative seats, but none running for statewide offices, transportation commissioner or public service commissioner.

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Follow Emily Wagster Pettus on Twitter: http://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus .

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