To quote baseball legend Yogi Berra, the 2023 gubernatorial election could be “deja vu all over again.”
In the 2019 election, Republican Tate Reeves opposed expanding Medicaid while Democrat Jim Hood supported it. Hood supported reducing or eliminating Mississippi’s grocery tax while Reeves advocated, instead, for eliminating the income tax. Hood wanted to fully fund public education while Reeves fought the effort throughout his eight-year tenure as lieutenant governor.
Four years later there’s a new Democratic nominee, but the emerging issues feel the same going into the 2023 election. Democrat Brandon Presley, like Hood, supports expanding Medicaid to provide health care coverage for primarily the working poor, supports eliminating the state’s sales tax on groceries and champions fully funding public education.
Reeves still opposes expanding Medicaid, would rather cut the income tax than the tax on groceries and has spoken derisively about recent legislative efforts to fully fund public education.
In 2019, Reeves won by 5% — 52% to 47%. What is different in 2023? Is it the same song, different verse, game over for the 2023 election?
Perhaps. But a breadth of recent polling indicates that on the issues — and solely on the issues — the Democrat wins.
A poll earlier this year by Siena College Research Institute, commissioned by Mississippi Today, revealed 80% support for Medicaid expansion where health care coverage is provided for the working poor with the federal government paying the bulk of the cost. If that is not convincing enough, a second more recent poll by Siena and Mississippi Today found 75% support for expanding Medicaid.
Siena is documented by the FiveThirtyEight Blog, a reputable blog for its data analysis, as being perhaps the best pollster in the nation.
But it should be pointed out other pollsters over the years also have found strong support among Mississippians for Medicaid expansion.
A Siena poll also found 79% support for fully funding the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, which provides the bulk of state funding for the basic needs of schools — needs like teachers, textbooks, buses and water and lights.
Cutting or eliminating Mississippi’s 7% tax on groceries, the highest tax of its kind in the nation, also is more popular than eliminating the income tax, according to the Siena poll.
If all this is true, why did Reeves win in 2019 by a comfortable, but not landslide margin, and why is he favored to win again in November 2023?
The easiest and most obvious answer is money. In 2019, Reeves spent $15.9 million compared to Hood’s $5.3 million on the gubernatorial campaign, according to records on file with the Secretary of State’s office. Reeves plans on similar domination in campaign spending during this year’s elections. Going into this year, the incumbent Reeves had $8 million in campaign cash on hand compared to $723,800 for Presley, the northern district public service commissioner.
Perhaps there are other issues more important to Mississippians than the aforementioned issues that were polled by Siena. But it is hard to imagine issues like education, health care and taxes are not way up on everyone’s lists.
Reeves will want to focus the campaign on other issues more closely associated, fairly or unfairly, with national Democrats. He most likely will have an overwhelming money advantage to craft that narrative and get it out to the public.
And it is easier to sell that narrative because for the vast majority of Mississippians, for whatever reason, their default vote in for the Republican candidate. Mississippi is a solid Republican state that has not voted for a Democrat for governor since 1999 or a Democrat for president since 1976.
To try to make electoral history, Presley will attempt to connect his campaign to the issues of health care, education and taxes rather than those issues that Reeves will want to talk about — those issues associated with national Democrats.
If he can do that, he might have a chance.
Mississippi’s loyalty or perhaps more accurately opposition to the national Democratic Party and Reeves’ money will make Presley’s task difficult. It is a task no Democrat on a statewide level has been able to accomplish for a long time.
But Presley may have at least one distinct advantage in the race: the issues.