Democratic gubernatorial candidate Brandon Presley talks about ethics reform in state government during a press conference, Tuesday, May 16, 2023, at the Mississippi Capitol in Jackson. Credit: Eric Shelton/Mississippi Today

The Democratic gubernatorial campaigns of Brandon Presley in 2023 and Jim Hood in 2019 appear to be on the same trajectory.

Both campaigns were rocked during the dog days of summer with public polling showing their opponent — Republican Tate Reeves in both cases — with sizable leads. That polling in 2019 did not mean the campaign was over for Hood, and it certainly does not mean in 2023 it is over for Presley. According to some numbers, Presley probably has more of an opportunity to expand his support this year than Hood did in 2019. Presley will need to, of course, succeed in that effort.

The recent bad news for Presley comes in the form of a Mississippi Today/Siena College poll. The poll conducted from August 20-28 showed the Republican Reeves with a comfortable 52%-41% lead over the Democratic challenger Presley. The Reeves campaign immediately touted the poll, while the Presley campaign instead released a recent internal poll showing the race tied.

READ MORE: Tate Reeves leads Brandon Presley by 11 points in governor’s race

Despite Presley’s own polling, the public polling by Siena College, consistently ranked as one of the nation’s best pollsters, was not good news for the Presley campaign.

For better or worse, in many ways the poll and even Presley’s internal polls indicate that his campaign is roughly in the same position as Hood’s campaign in 2019, when the former attorney general ran his unsuccessful campaign against Reeves for what was then an open governor’s seat.

In July of 2019, an NBC News/Survey Monkey poll showed Reeves with a 9-point lead over Hood, 51% to 42%. And interestingly, after the NBC/Survey Monkey poll released in 2019, the Hood campaign also released their own internal polling — this one showing the Democrat Hood with a slight 1-point lead over Reeves.

Perhaps more important than the 11-point lead Reeves enjoys in this year’s poll is the fact that he is polling over 50%, albeit only slightly. It is generally believed to be a dangerous sign if an incumbent is polling less than 50%.

There are a few polling differences between 2019 and 2023. According to the NBC News/Survey Monkey poll, for instance, voters were lukewarm in 2019 on the issue of accepting federal funds to expand Medicaid to provide health insurance to primarily the working poor. According to the 2019 poll, 35% of respondents said they were more likely to vote for a candidate who supported expanding Medicaid, while 33% of respondents were less likely, and 31% said the issue would make no difference to their vote.

But a commanding 72% majority in the Siena College/Mississippi Today polls this year supports expanding Medicaid in Mississippi as 40 other states have done.

Presley, of course, has made Medicaid expansion a key issue for his campaign, while Reeves is adamantly opposed to Medicaid expansion.

The Siena College poll does provide some other glimmers of hope for Presley. Importantly, according to the poll, more than one third of likely voters — 35% — say they do not know enough about Presley to offer an opinion, while 38% have a favorable opinion and 26% have an unfavorable opinion. Just about everyone knows Reeves, with 46% having a favorable opinion and 49% an unfavorable opinion.

Hood, like Reeves, is a veteran of multiple statewide campaigns. Mississippians, for the most part, knew Hood in 2019 and they certainly know Reeves, who is running his sixth statewide campaign. For most of Reeves’ adult life, he has been a Mississippi politician.

Presley, the Northern District Public Service commissioner, is running his first statewide campaign.

The fact Presley is not well known could be a good thing for him. He has an opportunity over the little less than two months before the Nov. 8 general election to introduce himself to more than one-third of voters and try to convince them he is a better choice than Tate Reeves for Mississippi.

Based on the results of the 2019 election, there is an opportunity for Presley to make that argument. Remember in 2019, Reeves did not win by a landslide. He won by 5%, or about 45,000 votes.

That relatively slim margin is what can provide hope for Brandon Presley even if the polls during the dog days of summer do not.

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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.