Roughly 95,000 more Mississippians voted in the Republican primary this year than four years ago, a 34% increase. This pushed Republican turnout over Democratic turnout for the first time.
These new GOP primary voters could noticeably impact the Aug. 27 runoffs.
So, where did they come from?
Well, not from the big 12 Republican counties that typically dominate primaries.
Comparing 2015 official to 2019 unofficial results, Rankin, DeSoto, Harrison, Madison, Jackson, Hinds, Jones, Lee, Lamar, Forrest, Lauderdale and Hancock Counties did increase their turnout, but that accounted for only 7% of the 34% total increase. They did provide 53% of the total GOP vote, but this was down from 64% in 2015.
Meanwhile, many rural counties, especially in north Mississippi, increased turnout by some amazing percentages – Quitman, Chickasaw, and Tippah Counties over 700%; Bolivar and Grenada over 500%; Alcorn, Benton, Itawamba, Tishomingo, and Panola over 400%; Union, Franklin, Kemper, Tunica, Prentiss, and Sunflower over 300%; Lawrence, Clay, Wilkinson, Pontotoc, and Yalobusha over 200%. Another 24 counties had increases over 100%.
Only six counties, including a biggie, DeSoto County, saw GOP turnout decline. The others were Pearl River, Oktibbeha, Leflore, Montgomery, and Simpson.
The county with the biggest numerical gain was Alcorn at 5,267 (a 406% gain), followed by Tippah at 4,809 (a 732% gain), and Itawamba at 4,720 (a 439% gain).
Notably, almost half of the total increase came from the 24 north Mississippi counties located on or above Highway 32.
It is hard to estimate what impact this turnout shift will have on the runoffs since statewide GOP runoffs seldom occur. There were none in 2015 and only one in 2011.
This year there will be two, Bill Waller vs. Tate Reeves for governor and Andy Taggart vs. Lynn Fitch for attorney general.
Also drawing GOP voters’ attention in north Mississippi will be a runoff for state transportation commissioner between John Caldwell and Geoffrey Yoste. Nine Senate and nine House races will also have runoffs.
In 2011, the GOP runoffs were for state treasurer, between Lynn Fitch and Lee Yancey, and six senate races. The runoff drew 156,006 votes. About 71% of these votes, 110,000, came from the big 12 counties.
The surge in GOP voter turnout in rural counties suggests the big 12's impact will be appreciably reduced this time around.
The 2011 turnout was about 54% of the 287,446 turnout in the first primary. Based on that percentage projected turnout this year would be 202,000 votes. In such case it would take 101,001 votes to win the runoff.
Reeves got 182,989 in the first while Waller got 124,707. Robert Foster, who forced the runoff, got 66,441. In the attorney general primary Fitch got 160,661, Taggart 103,643, and Mark Baker 98,397.
Whose voters will stick and turn back out on Aug. 27? Will Foster's and Baker’s voters turn out and for whom?
Reeves with his mountain of money and rural support – 43 of the 56 counties with over 100% increase in turnout gave him clear majorities – remains the favorite as does Fitch.
But Waller has the momentum, coming from nowhere to a runoff in seven months plus clobbering Reeves by 20 points in his home county (Rankin). Taggart also started late and he beat Fitch by 14 points in their home county (Madison).
How new GOP primary voters respond will help determine the winners.
Crawford is a syndicated columnist from Meridian.