There is some fire to the smoke rumors that Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann may challenge incumbent Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves in the Republican Primary next year. The real question is, "why?"

It would be a formidable challenge. Hosemann, 67, and Reeves, 40, both are battle tested.

Hosemann's toughest political fight was his first, in 1998, as Republican nominee in the open seat race for Mississippi's then Fourth Congressional District. The match began with a heated nine-man Republican Primary which Hosemann lead with 21 percent of the vote and winning the run-off with 56 percent of the vote. His Democratic opponent was Transportation Commissioner Ronnie Shows. Both in the primary and the general, Hosemann brought a number of new and hefty donors into the process. He raised around $350,000 in the primary and well over a million for the general: cheap by today's standards but serious money fifteen years ago in Mississippi. Shows raised less than $700,000 for the general and won with 54 percent of the vote.

Hosemann's next campaign was short lived. In 2003 he qualified to run for Attorney General. Incumbent Democrat Mike Moore was not seeking reelection and a number of Republican prosecutors were considering a run but hesitant at facing Hosemann's fundraising prowess in the primary. After the qualifying deadline had passed, Hosemann withdrew. He explained, "After reviewing with my campaign manager the costs of a primary, possible run-off, and general election, we concluded that the primary and run-off alone could exhaust significant Republican funds, reducing our chances to win this important State office...It was obvious to me the Republican party needs to unify behind one candidate."

That same year, Reeves sought the Republican nomination for the open Treasurer seat. Although Reeves hails from the most important county in the Republican Primary, Rankin, the campaign was expected to be quite competitive - until the campaign finance reports showed the 29-year-old was a serious contender against Natchez Rep. Andrew Ketchings and former Transportation Commissioner Wayne Burkes. Like Hosemann, Reeves understood the power of fundraising both in fueling a successful campaign and dominating perception. Reeves missed winning the primary the first round with 49 percent of the vote but won the run-off over Burkes more than two-to-one. In the general election, Reeves maintained a constant campaign blitz and mirrored Haley Barbour who was seeking to oust incumbent Gov. Ronnie Musgrove. Barbour won with 53 percent; Reeves won with 52 percent.

In 2007, Reeves faced little opposition to reelection. That year, Hosemann entered the race for the open Secretary of State seat and created the most memorable and enjoyable commercials in modern Mississippi politics. Hosemann sat on a park bench with an elderly lady as she shared his platform and constantly got his name wrong calling him Gilbert, Wilbert, Egbert, Philbert and Engerbert with Hosemann each time smiling politely and saying, "Yes, ma'm, but it's Delbert." He was able to drill in his name identification in a humorous way while discussing his issues. He won the primary and general and faced little opposition to his reelection in 2011.

Meanwhile in 2011, Reeves sought the open lieutenant governor's seat in a heated primary against Gulf Coast state Senator Billy Hewes. Reeves ran a disciplined and well funded campaign, coupled with a known statewide presence and won with 57 percent. He had no Democratic opposition in the general election.

Last year, US Senator Thad Cochran's decision to seek reelection stunned Hosemann who had established a federal exploratory committee, held talks with the National Republican Senatorial Committee, laid out parts of a campaign plan and begun opposition research in expectation Cochran would retire. Hosemann clearly wanted to run, yet had pledged not to challenge Cochran. He endorsed Cochran for reelection. It seems Hosemann still has the itch (unscratched in 2014) for a higher office.

Both Reeves and Hosemann are well liked; conservative; proven fundraisers with statewide name identification and battle tested campaigners. If the race occurs - which would likely set new state campaign finance records - what would be Hosemann's argument for voters to fire Reeves and hire him? Such a run would seem to fly in the face of his 2003 reasoning not to run for Attorney General.

The political chatter is that Hosemann wants the position to run for the open 2019 gubernatorial seat and is being encouraged by those in Governor Phil Bryant's camp to challenge Reeves, with whom he has battled. If true, both are legitimate political motivations but not something that inspires voters. Hosemann's ability to fundraise and his statewide poll numbers give him the ability to run, but not a reason to run.

But then that is what campaigns are about and were Hosemann to make a run for lieutenant governor; I suspect he - or the little lady on the park bench - will be making his case.

***

Brian Perry is partner with Capstone Public Affairs, LLC. Reach him at reasonablyright@brianperry.ms or @CapstonePerry on Twitter.