Brandon Presley, the Democratic candidate for governor, speaks at St.Luke M.B. Church in Dundee, Miss., Wednesday, May 3, 2023. Credit: Eric Shelton/Mississippi Today

Democrat Brandon Presley’s task of defeating incumbent Republican Gov. Tate Reeves in the November general election seems insurmountable.

After all, a Republican has won seven of the last eight gubernatorial elections and that lone Democratic victory came way back in 1999.

To further hammer home the point, a Democratic nominee for president has not won Mississippi since Jimmy Carter in 1976.

In 2019, Reeves defeated his Democratic opponent – four-term Attorney General Jim Hood – by a little more than 5% or about 45,000 votes.

Even though history over the last three decades or so paints a bleak picture for Presley’s prospects, recent statewide election results might provide a glimmer of hope.

That glimmer can be gleaned, at least in part, from the fact that Hood and Presley are both native sons of northeast Mississippi.

While northeast Mississippi was once a power base for the so-called rural white Democrats, the party’s standing in the area has declined dramatically over the last 20 years or more. Even during that Democratic decline, though, the area remained loyal to native son Hood through four successful elections for attorney general.

But in his 2019 gubernatorial election defeat, Hood garnered about 12,500 less votes in the 10 most extreme northeast Mississippi counties than he did in his last race for attorney general against former Republican U.S. attorney Mike Hurst in 2015. And perhaps more importantly, in 2011 Hood won 26,000 votes more in those 10 counties against former Public Safety Commissioner Steve Simpson than he did against Reeves in 2019.

Presley, who has been on the ballot for the post of Northern District Public Service commissioner four times in those counties, would need to replicate the success Hood had in his elections for attorney general. And it would help if he could replicate Hood’s 2011 effort opposed to his 2015 showing.

In reality, Presley’s showing in those 10 northeast Mississippi counties in his Public Service commission races was as strong or stronger than Hood’s. But it should be pointed out that during those elections the state Republican Party apparatus put much more of an emphasis on defeating Hood, who was Mississippi’s only statewide elected Democrat for 12 years, than it did on defeating a Northern District Public Service commissioner.

So, the point is that there are votes in those counties that both Hood and Presley got in the past, but that Hood did not capture in his 2019 bid against Reeves.

But even if Presley could repeat Hood’s 2011 showing in those 10 counties based on the margin of victory Reeves had in 2019, Presley still would be about 19,000 votes short of victory.

Perhaps the state Democratic Party is to the point of getting excited about close losses. Presley, though, would not be welcoming of a moral victory.

But maybe there are more votes to be found.

Brad Chism, a Mississippi based Democratic consultant and pollster, based on his research at the time estimated that African Americans made up 31% of the total turnout in the 2019 governor’s election and 35% of the turnout in the first Mike Espy-Cindy Hyde-Smith U.S. Senate election in 2018.

So, in other words, if Presley could repeat past Democratic glories in northeast Mississippi and get African Americans, who tend to vote Democratic in Mississippi, to vote at the Espy-Hyde-Smith election levels, there would perhaps be a path to victory for Presley.

There might be other paths to victory for Presley, but the bottom line is that all of those paths are narrow and rocky.

And most likely, a combination of Black voter turnout and a stronger showing in northeast Mississippi is the less rocky path.

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Bobby Harrison, Mississippi Today’s senior capitol reporter, covers politics, government and the Mississippi State Legislature. He also writes a weekly news analysis which is co-published in newspapers statewide. A native of Laurel, Bobby joined our team June 2018 after working for the North Mississippi Daily Journal in Tupelo since 1984. He is president of the Mississippi Capitol Press Corps Association and works with the Mississippi State University Stennis Institute to organize press luncheons. Bobby has a bachelor's in American Studies from the University of Southern Mississippi and has received multiple awards from the Mississippi Press Association, including the Bill Minor Best Investigative/In-depth Reporting and Best Commentary Column.