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Judge says Mississippi Democrats improperly excluded gubernatorial candidate

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Mississippi could have a Democratic primary for governor in August after a judge ruled Friday that the party improperly excluded a candidate from the ballot.

The state Democratic Party immediately filed notice that it would ask the Mississippi Supreme Court to reverse the judge’s ruling on Bob Hickingbottom’s candidacy.

“I appreciate the court’s consideration. We hope to obtain a more favorable decision on appeal,” committee attorney Gerald Mumford told The Associated Press.

The state Democratic Executive Committee decided in February that Hickingbottom could not be on the ballot as a Democrat. Hickingbottom, who has described herself as a political operative, ran for governor in 2019 as a Constitution Party candidate.

The executive committee also dropped Gregory Wash from running for governor this year after running a low-budget campaign for governor in the Democratic primary four years ago.

The party’s decisions left four-term Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley as the sole Democratic nominee for governor. Wash did not challenge the party’s decision, but Hickingbottom sued.

Republican Gov. Tate Reeves is seeking a second term, and he faces two challengers in the GOP primary — military veteran David Hardigree and physician Dr. John Witcher.

The Mississippi primaries are August 8, and the general election is November 7.

Presley campaign spokesman Michael Baer answered questions about a possible Democratic primary on Friday, focusing on a welfare misappropriation case that developed as Reeves was lieutenant governor.

“We welcome any legally qualified candidate to enter the race, and our campaign will continue to focus on Tate Reeves’ failed record of criminally misappropriating $77 million of Mississippians’ hard-earned taxpayer dollars.” spending in ways that range from luxury cars, steak dinners to working families, and even a volleyball stadium,” Beyer said.

Judge Forrest A. Johnson Jr. wrote that the Democratic Party was not allowed to reject Hickinbottom’s candidacy on the grounds that Hickinbottom had failed to file a financial interest statement with the Ethics Commission.

Johnson wrote that Hickingbottom met the qualifications to run for governor, which are in the state constitution: a candidate must be at least 30 years old, a U.S. citizen at least 20 years old, and at least five years old before election. Must have been a resident of Mississippi the year prior.

Hickingbottom is black, and Presley is white. An important part of winning the Democratic primary is attracting support from black voters. Presley’s campaign did not mention Friday’s race, but Frank Bordeaux, chairman of the Mississippi Republican Party, did.

“Brandon Presley and his Democratic Party allies corruptly pushed his African American opponent off the ballot,” Bordeaux said in a statement. “A judge just ruled that his actions were illegal and unethical, and now Presley faces a primary challenge. Why did Brandon Presley try so hard to keep an African American candidate from getting to the ballot?

Hickingbottom filed a campaign finance report this month showing he raised and did not spend money during April. Presley reported $1.6 million in his campaign funds.

Reeves reported $9 million in campaign money, while Visscher reported $21,000 and Hardigree reported no money.