Republican Gov. Tate Reeves, left, and Democratic challenger Brandon Presley

Despite vowing back in September that he and challenger Brandon Presley would have gubernatorial “debates” — plural — it appears incumbent Gov. Tate Reeves has agreed to participate in only one. It will take place on Nov. 1, just before the Nov. 7 election.

“I am letting the campaign team work on that,” Reeves said at a Sept. 21 press conference. “But I am sure we are going to have debates. We have always had debates.” He said he relished the chance to debate Presley and set the record straight with voters and “dispelling lies.”

In his first run for governor in 2019, Reeves debated his Democratic opponent Jim Hood twice.

In early October, when Reeves announced he had accepted a WAPT TV invite for a televised debate against Presley on Nov. 1, Reeves referred to it as “the first gubernatorial debate.” But it appears it will be the only gubernatorial debate, not the first. It also would appear Reeves agreed to the single debate just days before the election to defang Presley’s claim — and campaign fodder — that he was dodging and “hiding” from the voting public, not because of Reeves’ strong desire to debate.

The Reeves campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment about debates on Friday.

Presley had accepted five invitations by various media and organizations for gubernatorial debates during October. He had vowed to debate Reeves anywhere, any time.

Presley this month has attended the agreed-to events that were still held sans Reeves, even bringing an empty chair and taping a photo of Reeves up in mock debate.

On Thursday, Presley’s campaign declared “Empty Chair October,” as Presley attended what had been pitched as a gubernatorial debate in Natchez.

“It’s been 27 days since Mississippians started (absentee) voting and Brandon continues to debate while Tate Reeves hides,” the Presley campaign said in a statement.

Presley said: “No matter how hard Tate Reeves works to hide, I will be out there, answering questions and talking to Mississippians who are ready for a new day in Mississippi come November.”

The Nov. 1 debate will not only be the only debate for this gubernatorial race, but the only one for a statewide office this cycle. Several challengers have accused Mississippi incumbents of debate dodging.

READ MORE: Mississippians deserve timely gubernatorial debate, not fear and loathing

The “Commitment 2023: Mississippi Gubernatorial Debate” will be a partnership between WAPT TV in the Metro Jackson market and Mississippi Public Broadcasting. The hour-long debate will be broadcast live at 7 p.m. on Nov. 1 from WAPT’s studio by the outlet and also will be broadcast live on MPB’s radio and television stations statewide and on the MPB app.

Voters are asked to submit questions for the candidates via email to

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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.