President Donald Trump greets Tate Reeves before he speaks during a campaign rally at BancorpSouth Arena in Tupelo on Nov. 1, 2019. Credit: Eric J. Shelton/Mississippi Today, Report For America

If history is an indicator, Gov. Tate Reeves’ reelection campaign might have gotten a major boost this past week: new federal criminal charges filed against former President Donald Trump.

Those charges could fire up the legion of Mississippi Trump voters to go to the polls to support the Republican Reeves later this year, just as the congressional impeachment of Trump got them to flock to the polls four years ago.

It looks as though Reeves already is trying to take advantage of the Trump indictment to get voters to the polls this November for his reelection effort against Democrat Brandon Presley.

“The Biden administration’s attempts to interfere in the election by weaponizing law enforcement are corrupt and wrong,” Reeves wrote this week on social media. “They have proven they will do anything to get Donald Trump, and trample ethics, the rule of law, and our national unity to do it.”

There was a belief by many, including those on the 2019 gubernatorial campaign of Democrat Jim Hood, that the decision by U.S. House Democrats to launch an official impeachment inquiry of then-President Trump played a key role in tilting Mississippi’s governor’s election to Reeves.

In 2019, Reeves was endorsed by Trump. And perhaps more importantly, Trump held a massive rally for Reeves on the Friday night before the November 2019 general election in Tupelo — the center of the key battleground area of northeast Mississippi. The day before that rally, House Democrats began the official impeachment inquiry.

Reeves might have won regardless of Trump. After all, he was the favorite to win in Republican friendly Mississippi. But on that Friday night rally in Tupelo, the focus was not on electing Tate Reeves because of his political skills or policies. Instead, it was on Trump and encouraging Republican voters to send a message to House Democrats.

“We can’t reelect Donald J. Trump on Tuesday night, but we can do the next best thing: elect Tate Reeves governor,” U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker told the raucous crowd that night.

If an impeachment inquiry spurred Mississippians to go to the polls to vote for the Republican gubernatorial nominee, imagine what two sets of federal indictments — plus state charges in New York and the likelihood of facing more state charges in Georgia — could do.

Trump, of course, was indicted earlier on charges related to the mishandling and concealing of classified documents after he left office. And perhaps the charges leveled last week will have the most impact on many Mississippi voters. Those charges relate to his effort to use his position as president and the power of the U.S. Department of Justice and other groups to overthrow the 2020 election, when he was defeated by Democrat Joe Biden.

Criminal charges against Trump related to the 2020 election and attempts to overthrow it, no doubt, will fire up many voters who remain convinced that the election was stolen despite no evidence to support that theory.

In 2019, during the campaign rally in Tupelo, Trump urged Mississippians “to send a signal (about his impeachment) by sending a terrific new Republican governor to Jackson.”

Days before the 2019 election, a Mason-Dixon poll said Reeves had a narrow 46%-43% advantage.

“In this close race, President Donald Trump could be the deciding factor,” the Mason-Dixon pollsters wrote. “Trump remains popular in Mississippi and efforts by congressional Democrats to impeach him are opposed by a significant majority of state voters.”

The poll said the impeachment inquiry was opposed by a 56% to 34% margin in Mississippi.

Hood campaign staffers said privately after the election that their internal polling showed the Democrat holding a slight lead throughout 2019. Hood’s internal polling also showed that he was viewed more favorably than Reeves. But a key is that the internal poll consistently showed that Trump was more favorable than the Mississippi politicians, including outgoing Gov. Phil Bryant.

As the impeachment inquiry intensified during the final days of the Mississippi gubernatorial campaign, Hood staffers said they could feel the election slipping away.

On that Friday night in Tupelo’s BancorpSouth Coliseum, the momentum for Reeves and the anger over the impeachment inquiry seemed palpable. And on Election Day, Reeves convincingly won the Tupelo area that was viewed as a Hood stronghold, helping to propel Reeves to a 5-point victory statewide.

This year, Democrat Brandon Presley, already facing difficult odds against an incumbent governor with a sizable fundraising advantage, has to hope Mississippi voters are not as angry this year about Donald Trump’s legal woes.

For whatever it is worth, Trump also campaigned for the Republican candidates for governor in the other two states with gubernatorial elections in 2019, Kentucky and Louisiana.

In both those states, the Democrat won.

That is the history that may give Presley a glimmer of hope, but the Trump factor could loom large in Mississippi.

Creative Commons License

Republish our articles for free, online or in print, under a Creative Commons license.

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.