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2 of 3 Mississippi GOP candidates for governor set to debate

Two of the three Republican candidates for Mississippi governor are set to take part in the first debate of the campaign season.

State Rep. Robert Foster of Hernando and former Mississippi Supreme Court Chief Justice Bill Waller Jr. of Jackson accepted an invitation for the event at Mississippi State University in Starkville.

The candidate who has raised the most money in the race, Republican Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves of Flowood, declined the invitation. His campaign spokesman, Parker Briden, originally said Reeves would be busy with the legislative session, where he presides over the state Senate. The session was scheduled to run through this week, but it ended Friday.

The debate’s sponsoring group, MSU College Republicans, said in a statement that it initially reached out to Reeves’ campaign staff in early February to discuss whether he would take part in a debate. After the university told the group what date the debate would happen, the club again contacted the Reeves campaign.

“We were told that he would not be able to attend due to the legislative session, but we continued to make preparations in case the session ended early and he was able to attend,” the club said Monday. “We contacted his office again on Friday to inquire about his availability, and he did not indicate that he’d be attending.”

Party primaries are Aug. 6, and the general election is Nov. 5.

The current governor, Republican Phil Bryant, cannot seek a third term.

Nine Democrats are seeking their party’s nomination for governor. The current attorney general, Jim Hood, has raised the most money among the Democrats.