Democrats Seek to Turn Deep-Red Mississippi Blue by Flipping Governor’s Seat

Democrats Seek to Turn Deep-Red Mississippi Blue by Flipping Governor’s Seat
Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves signs the bill retiring the last state flag with the Confederate battle emblem during a ceremony at the Governor's Mansion in Jackson, Miss., on June 30, 2020. (Rogelio V. Solis/Pool/AFP via Getty Images)
Joe Gomez

Democratic organizations, activists, and lawmakers believe they can defeat the Republican incumbent in the 2023 Mississippi gubernatorial election due to multiple controversies haunting the governor.

“Governor Tate Reeves has failed the people of Mississippi. Under his watch, cronyism is running rampant and taxpayers are facing the largest public corruption scandal in state history, while good job opportunities, health care, and clean water continue to be out of reach for too many families,” Democratic Governors Association (DGA) Deputy Communications Director Sam Newton told The Epoch Times.

The Epoch Times reached out to the governor’s office for a response to the DGA’s statement, but they declined to comment.

Reeves is allegedly connected to a public corruption scandal, according to text messages obtained by Mississippi Today, where tens of millions of dollars from a federal block grant called Temporary Assistance for Needy Families ( TANF) were re-directed to the rich and powerful instead of the state’s poorest residents.

The Mississippi Department of Human Services has filed a civil lawsuit to recoup the misspent money.

Democrats believe the scandal, added to the potential closure of nearly half of Mississippi’s rural hospitals due to economic strain and a water crisis in Jackson, is enough to flip the governor’s seat.

“The DGA has shown that we can win anywhere, including ousting GOP incumbents in very tough environments like Kentucky, Wisconsin, and North Carolina in recent election cycles,” said Newton.

In addition to the several controversies that could potentially impact the governor’s race, a new poll from Siena College/Mississippi Today shows that 57 percent of all voters in the state would support “someone else” as governor in 2023—including 67 percent of independent voters and one-third of Republicans. The poll also revealed that Reeve’s approval rating has dropped to just 40 percent among Mississippi voters.

Republican Reponse

Mississippi Republicans meanwhile maintain that despite negative polling, they have a strong record to run on to keep the governor’s mansion and that Reeves has been one of the most successful governors in the state’s history.

“The DGA thought they were going to take over the governor’s mansion in 2019 and they failed to do it then,” Mississippi Republican Party Chairman Frank Bordeaux told The Epoch Times. “The reality is since 2019 the conservative policies that have been enacted under Governor Reeve’s leadership have been the largest tax cuts in state history, the largest teacher pay raise in state history, we’ve seen the largest gains in public education in state history, we’ve seen the highest graduation rate we’ve ever seen in state history you’ve seen private investment in our state, in state history.”

Bordeaux says the GOP has built a very organized ground game in Mississippi to combat the DGA, and that their field of candidates running for election in the state is the most diverse as it’s ever been with a record number of minorities running as republicans.

Mississippi has the highest percentage of black residents of any state in the country at nearly 39 percent, according to the Center for Public Integrity. It’s a minority block that has been actively targeted by both parties and one that Matt Angle, Democratic strategist and Director of the Texas Lone Star Project told The Epoch Times could be enough to turn the deep red state of Mississippi – blue.

“Mississippi is a good example of a small state with the demographics to have a relatively sudden political turnaround,” said Angle whose organization has been working to turn Texas blue. “It has a large black population that, while not liberal, is becoming more organized and activated. At the same time, Republicans are not just extreme but ineffective.”

Brandon Presley

While Republicans maintain that history will repeat itself with Democrats losing the Mississippi gubernatorial election again, Democrats are optimistic this time that they have another ace up their sleeve with candidate for governor Brandon Presley.

Presley, who is the state’s Northern District public service commissioner, is also a distant cousin of Elvis Presley and is a popular Democrat in a deeply red state who has a record of working across the aisle (he endorsed the reelection campaign of former President George W. Bush in 2004). He is also the youngest person ever elected as mayor in Mississippi’s history, becoming mayor of Nettleton at the age of 23, and has already been endorsed by Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), the only Democrat in the state’s congressional delegation.

The commissioner launched his bid for governor in a video on Twitter earlier this month, immediately taking aim at Reeves.

“I’m running for governor because I know Mississippi can do better,” said Presley. “We got a state filled with good people but horrible politicians, and that includes our governor. Tate Reeves is a man with zero conviction and maximum corruption.”

In the video, Presley also makes a joke about his cousin, “the King of Rock and Roll.” Presley’s grandfathers were brothers.

“My cousin grew up just down the road in Tupelo. You’ve probably heard of him.”

The 45-year-old also talked about his poor childhood, how he could see through cracks in the floor of the home he grew up in, and how his mother worked in a garment factory while also working as a preschool teacher. Presley also revealed that his father was an alcoholic who was murdered when he was in third grade.

It’s a combination of tragedies that some strategists believe voters could empathize with or relate to.

“It is still a steep uphill climb, but a mainstream Democrat may be able to build a coalition to take out Republican leadership that is more MAGA than Mississippi,” said Angle.

The Republican Party in the state, meanwhile, remains unimpressed, saying Democrats are trying to run a negative campaign while they are focused on a more positive message.

“I don’t believe Mississippi is going to turn blue in 2023. I think the momentum is on our side. I think there is a lot of energy behind us, [and] I believe that we have the organization already in place and they’re starting from scratch,” says Bordeaux.

“We’ve gained 17 Republican clubs in our state in the past two years. We have a record number of Republicans running for office from election commissioner all the way to governor,” he said.

Two other gubernatorial elections will take place in 2023, other than the governor’s race in Mississippi, including races in Louisiana and Kentucky.

Joe Gomez is an award-winning journalist who has worked across the globe for several major networks including: CBS, CNN, FOX News, and most recently NBC News Radio as a national correspondent based out of Washington. He has covered major disasters and worked as an investigative reporter in many danger zones.
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