TUPELO • Stumping for the attorney general’s office before a crowd of Lee County Republicans, state Rep. Mark Baker focused heavily on drawing distinctions between himself and the Democratic incumbent vacating the office.

“At some point, we have got to have a conservative in the office of attorney general who represents Mississippi values,” Baker said Monday. “So I have been on this quest to change the office of attorney general.”

A Rankin County legislator, Baker is one of three Republicans who hope to replace Jim Hood, who has for years been the only Democrat to hold statewide office in Mississippi.

Also in the race as Republicans are incumbent state Treasurer Lynn Fitch and attorney Andy Taggart.

Hood is running for governor this year, rather than seeking re-election as attorney general.

If elected as attorney general, Baker promised to use the federal courts as an arena to fight for conservative goals, including abortion restrictions and a recent spate of religious liberty laws

“The fights are in the courts and that’s why I’m running,” Baker said.

Baker criticized Hood for his failure to join onto a number of legal battles, including efforts by some states to fight a federal mandate to expand Medicaid and the individual mandate to purchase health insurance.

He also faulted Hood for failing to fight against preclearance requirements that were imposed on Mississippi by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 until declared unconstitutional in 2013 by the U.S. Supreme Court.

“With preclearance, Mississippi and a few other Southern states were put in a group and said you cannot manage your own elections. Your sovereignty is of no value at the federal level,” Baker said. “Our attorney general decided that the federal government’s thumb on our elections was important, in this day and time.”

Preclearance requirements were imposed to stymie the longstanding practices employed by Southern states to deny racial minorities the right to vote.

The 2013 Supreme Court ruling, however, said that there was no longer sufficient evidence of discrimination to justify the continuing presence of this requirement.

With his fire trained on someone who won’t be competing with him on the ballot, the Daily Journal asked Baker to draw contrasts between himself and his two primary opponents.

Baker pointed to his legal experience and his affinity for President Donald Trump.

“One of the people who’s running in this race doesn’t really have any active courtroom experience and another one is kind of an anti-Trump kind of person,” Baker said. “I want to work with President Trump. I believe in things like the wall.”

These comments seemingly refer to Fitch and Taggart, respectively.

Taggart supported John Kasich’s presidential candidacy in 2016 and has been critical of Trump at times.

Fitch has a resume that includes stints as executive director of the Mississippi State Personnel Board and as deputy executive director at the Mississippi Department of Employment Security.

She did begin her legal career as a special assistant attorney general.

When she appeared in Tupelo earlier this year to discuss her own candidacy, the Daily Journal asked Fitch if she had sufficient experience in law enforcement and the criminal justice system to tackle the job of attorney general.

“Absolutely. I have been a tremendous partner with law enforcement all my life,” Fitch said. “My uncle was the sheriff in Marshall County, and the sheriff in Marshall County is a dear friend right now. I understand what they do, they put their lives on the line every day, 24 hours a day. I believe my law enforcement experience and partnerships and understanding is going to be very, very pertinent to me serving in that capacity.”

The Republican nominee will face Democratic candidate Jennifer Riley-Collins, ACLU of Mississippi executive director.

caleb.bedillion@journalinc.com Twitter: @CalebBedillion

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