By EMILY WAGSTER PETTUS
JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Five statewide Republican incumbents defeated challengers Tuesday as Mississippi voters narrowed the list of candidates for the November general election.
Gov. Phil Bryant and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves each pushed aside one candidate who had spent little money, while Treasurer Lynn Fitch, Auditor Stacey Pickering and Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney defeated challengers who criticized their performance in office.
Former state Sen. Tim Johnson won the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor.
Votes were still being counted late Tuesday in the Democratic primary for governor.
"This is just halftime," Bryant said from the state Republican headquarters in Jackson. "We've got until November to make sure a lot us get re-elected and hold the (state) House and hold the Senate."
Bryant defeated Mitch Young, a Navy veteran from Sumrall. Three candidates were competing in the Democratic primary for governor: truck driver Robert Gray of Jackson, who spent little on his campaign but was the front-runner for hours as votes were being counted; Vicki Slater of Madison, an attorney who is a former head of the state trial lawyers' association; and Dr. Valerie Adream Smartt Short, an obstetrician-gynecologist from Ridgeland. The Nov. 3 ballot for governor will also include the Reform Party's Shawn O'Hara.
Gray told The Associated Press in a phone interview late Tuesday that he was busy all day and did not vote.
"I was in Jackson and had to do a lot of stuff and just lost track of time, to tell you the truth," said Gray, who was in south Mississippi by election night.
Gray said he made only a few campaign appearances and was at a loss to explain his strong showing. He said some might have voted for him because he has a common name.
"They didn't know me from anybody else," Gray said of Democratic primary voters.
He said his campaign was not backed by any big-name politician or group.
Reeves defeated Alisha Nelson McElhenney, a teacher from Moss Point. Johnson, who switched from Republican to Democrat as he entered the race earlier this year, defeated Jelani Barr, a bookkeeper from Greenwood. Libertarian Ron Williams and the Reform Party's Rosa B. Williams will also be on the general election ballot for lieutenant governor.
"Tonight's results show Republican primary voters are overwhelmingly pleased with the direction we are leading the state," Reeves said from a Jackson restaurant.
Fitch defeated David McRae, an attorney who said she had sloppily managed a state-sponsored college savings plan. Fitch said she has been a good steward of public finances.
"It's been very challenging, but what was important was to focus on the positives," Fitch said from a victory party at the state GOP headquarters.
Pickering defeated Mary Hawkins Butler, a longtime Madison mayor, who said Pickering was wrong to use campaign money to pay for personal expenses such as vehicles, travel and a garage door. Pickering said his spending was aboveboard.
"I think the voters of Mississippi gave a resounding referendum that they like the results that they received out of our office, and they obviously want us to continue building upon our successes of the last eight years," Pickering said Tuesday night in a telephone interview from his home in Laurel after the results were in.
Chaney defeated one challenger, body shop owner John Mosley. No Democrat is running for insurance commissioner, but a Reform Party candidate, Johnny McLeod, will be on the ballot in November.
"We ran on what we've done the past eight years and stayed positive, so I am happy about that," Chaney said from his party at the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. "We've still got miles to go to address (insurance) rates and flooding insurance along the Gulf Coast and access to health insurance in the state."
Temperatures topped 100 degrees in parts of Mississippi as voters cast ballots.
"It is our right to vote, and we always do," Jean McLaurin, 66, said as she and her husband, James McLaurin, 77, left a precinct in the Jackson suburb of Madison.
"It's a right and a responsibility," James McLaurin added.
Circuit clerks reported heavy turnout in some counties, particularly in places with contested local races for sheriff and superintendent of education. Others, however, reported sparse and "mediocre" turnouts.
Ballots also include some primaries for public service commissioner and transportation commissioner. A long list of legislative primaries was being decided. On the county level, voters were choosing party nominees for sheriff, supervisor, circuit clerk, chancery clerk and other offices.
If runoffs are needed, they will be held Aug. 25. Democratic and Republican nominees will advance to the general election, when some third-party candidates also will be on the ballot.
In north Mississippi's DeSoto County, where voters are choosing a new superintendent of education, the circuit clerk said poll workers reported lines at some precincts.
In heavily Republican Rankin, Forrest and Jackson counties, election officials reported relatively low turnout.
In Harrison County on the Gulf Coast, Clerk Gayle Park said poll workers reported steady voting. A deputy circuit clerk in the Delta's Coahoma County said the same.
Associated Press writer Jack Elliott Jr. contributed to this report.
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