Gov. Tate Reeves, with his wife Elee Reeves, spoke to supporters at Stribling Equipment in Richland on Wednesday, May 3, 2023. Credit: Vickie D. King/Mississippi Today

Incumbent Republican Gov. Tate Reeves says he’s not just facing a Democratic opponent, he’s up against a national cabal of East- and West-coast liberal elites and media.

He repeatedly warned a campaign kickoff crowd Wednesday that “they” are out to get Mississippi.

“My friends, this is a different governor’s campaign than we have ever seen before in our state because we are not up against a local-yokel Mississippi Democrat, we are up against a national liberal machine,” Reeves told a crowd in Richland on Wednesday, at a second campaign kickoff event. “They are extreme. They are radical and vicious. They believe welfare is success. They believe that taxes are good and businesses are bad. They think boys can be girls, that babies have no life, and that our state and our nation are racist.

“They think they can teach all of us Mississippians a lesson,” Reeves said. “They do not like who we are and they do not like what we believe. They look at all we have accomplished as conservatives and they hate it. They see our progress on education and the economy and they want to stop it. You see, a successful, thriving, growing Mississippi does not work for them, not if it is also a God-fearing, family loving and truth-believing, hard-working conservative Mississippi … They want Mississippi to be the butt of their jokes … They want to kick Mississippi around, and you and me are simply in their way.”

Reeves on Wednesday held a campaign rally and lunch at Stribling Equipment in Richland, after having an initial campaign kick-off event Tuesday in Gulfport. About 250 people attended his Wednesday event, including many present and past elected officials, lawmakers and lobbyists and local government and GOP leaders.

The event was near his hometown of Florence and in his home county, Rankin. In the 2019 general election against Democratic former Attorney General Jim Hood he won Rankin County after losing there in the Republican primary and primary runoff that year.

READ MORE: Gov. Tate Reeves kicks off campaign where it’s mattered most: the Gulf Coast

Reeves didn’t mention his Democratic challenger, longtime Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley, by name, but worked to cast the race as a nationalized battle between Republicans and Democrats. This was a winning strategy for him in Mississippi — which has been solidly ruby red in national elections for decades — in his first gubernatorial election against Hood.

“The election that is before us is a question of whether or not we will keep up our momentum in Mississippi,” Reeves said. “The national Democrats have recruited a candidate. They are filling up his bank account. They have sent in experts in far-left politics to run his campaign. They even sent the governor of California, Gavin Newsom, here to check on his progress.”

Reeves was referring to a four-state tour, including Alabama, Arkansas and Florida, by Newsom last month as part of his launch of a new political action committee meant to promote Democrats in GOP-led states. Presley did not meet with Newsom on his visit, but Reeves chided Mississippi media on Wednesday, telling the crowd, “Oh, you didn’t see the news of Gavin Newsom here campaigning? Mississippi media must have left that out.”

When asked about whether Presley met with Newsom during his visit, a Presley campaign spokesman said: “Brandon was in Nettleton attending Palm Sunday services at his home church.”

Reeves in his speech said Mississippi has made great gains in economic development and education, adding, “Today we are building a Mississippi where nobody has to leave.” He repeated the speech’s theme — “this is Mississippi’s time” — many times from the stump.

“I have a message for all those governors in New York and California and Illinois: Mississippi is coming to take your jobs, and we have no intention of giving them back,” Reeves said. He also asked the crowd, “Help us one more time … Let’s defeat the national liberals. This is Mississippi’s moment. This is Mississippi’s time.”

Ruby Ainsworth and Betty Phillips, both Simpson County Republican Executive Committee members, were among the crowd of supporters at Reeves’ Richland event.

“I think he gave an excellent speech, one of the best I’ve ever heard him do,” said Ainsworth. “I think he’s done an excellent job as governor.”

Phillips said: “He has moved Mississippi forward — in all the ways he just said he has.”

Former Mississippi U.S. Rep. Gregg Harper, a Rankin Countian, agreed.

“I’m here today as a highly unpaid political volunteer,” Harper said. “… He has earned the right to be elected another four years.”

When asked how he believes Reeves will do in Rankin County, Harper joked, “I think it will be hard for him to get more than 90% of the vote in Rankin County.”

READ MORE: Brandon Presley campaign reports $1.3 million raised since January

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Geoff Pender serves as senior political reporter, working closely with Mississippi Today leadership on editorial strategy and investigations. Pender brings 30 years of political and government reporting experience to Mississippi Today. He was political and investigative editor at the Clarion Ledger, where he also penned a popular political column. He previously served as an investigative reporter and political editor at the Sun Herald, where he was a member of the Pulitzer Prize-winning team for Hurricane Katrina coverage. Originally from Florence, Mississippi, Pender is a journalism graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi and has received numerous awards throughout his career for reporting, columns and freedom of information efforts.