Brandon Presley, a Democrat who has spent the past 15 years regulating utility companies on the state’s Public Service Commission, will announce today that he is running for governor in 2023.
Presley is among the most notable Democrats to run for the state’s highest office this century, and his candidacy is expected to inspire one of the most expensive and bitter campaigns in state history.
The 45-year-old Nettleton native will launch his campaign and introduce himself to many Mississippians this week with a three-minute video that includes a blistering critique of current Gov. Tate Reeves, the first-term Republican who announced last week he will seek reelection.
“I’m running for governor because I know Mississippi can do better,” Presley says in the video. “We’ve 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. He looks out for himself and his rich friends instead of the people that put him into office. And he’s been caught in the middle of the largest public corruption scandal in state history.”
(Note: The Presley campaign released the campaign announcement video after this story published. Watch the video here.)
Presley, whose early campaign strategy will target the state’s sprawling welfare scandal and other corruption in Jackson, has built a modest brand over the years as a politician focused on apolitical priorities like expanding high speed internet access across the state and regulating the rates that electric and water companies charge Mississippians.
Advisers close to Presley hope his background, demeanor and ideas appeal to many Mississippians. A relative of legendary performer Elvis, Presley speaks in a deep Southern drawl. He was raised in a small town by a single mother who worked in a factory while struggling to pay bills, and he has long dwelled on those early life lessons in his public life.
But to wage a winning campaign in 2023, Presley has his work cut out for him. He’s a Democrat running in Mississippi, one of the most reliably Republican electorates in the nation that has grown ever resistant to values championed by many modern liberals. The last Democrat to win the governorship was Ronnie Musgrove in 1999, and the GOP has tightened its grip on the state’s political complex since.
Still, Presley believes he has a compelling case to make to every Mississippi voter, including Republicans. A political moderate who self describes as pro-life and pro-Second Amendment, he’s worked closely and successfully with GOP officials. As Nettleton mayor from 2001-2007, he championed tax cuts and brought in jobs and infamously crossed over to vote for Republican George W. Bush in the 2004 presidential election. Several high-profile Republicans have given to his campaign in recent weeks, including a handful of members of Reeves’ 2019 gubernatorial campaign finance committee.
Late last year, a Presley supporter even printed out bumper stickers that read: “Republicans for Presley: Let’s go Brandon!” Dozens of supporters requested the stickers when Presley posted a photo of the sticker to Facebook.
But while Presley courts support from independent or right-leaning voters, his principal task will be shoring up support from loyal Mississippi Democrats, who traditionally make up between 40-45% of the state’s electorate. About 75% of the state’s Democratic base of voters are Black, and Presley will have to speak to and appeal to them — a failed objective for many recent white statewide Democrats.
Helping his cause, though, Presley has worked for years to develop relationships with several of the state’s top Black Democratic leaders. Presley has become particularly close with U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, the state’s most powerful Democrat boasting a decades-old political network and heavy influence with Black Mississippians. Presley says his campaign will hire several political operatives within Thompson’s circle.
Though other candidates have until Feb. 1 to announce their candidacies, politicos forecast Presley and Reeves will square off in the November general election. Though Reeves, the first-term Republican governor, has consistently polled as one of the most unpopular governors in the nation, he will enjoy the platform of incumbency and the historically fat campaign checkbook that comes along with it.
He’ll have access to a massive campaign staff with decades of statewide election experience and a robust Mississippi Republican Party infrastructure already built up and ready to roll. And Reeves’ strongest base of support is along the Mississippi Gulf Coast, a population center and geographically farthest from Presley’s home turf.
Presley, on the other hand, will have to spend considerable cash to increase his name ID among everyday Mississippians — and particularly on the Coast, where few people are familiar with his political brand. While he’ll likely earn the support of national Democrats and have millions of dollars to spend, he is not expected to match Reeves’ fundraising prowess.
But on calls with advisers and friends in recent days, Presley has been focused on the importance of the 2023 election for the future of the state — not the tough politics of the moment.
“We can build a Mississippi where we fight corruption, not embrace it,” Presley says in the announcement video. “Where we cut taxes, lower the cost of healthcare and create good jobs. A Mississippi where we finally focus on the future, not the past. A Mississippi where we lead with strength and courage and real backbone.
“And if you make me your governor, I promise you this: I’ll never forget who I am, where I came from or who sent me.”