Welcome to The Homestretch, a daily blog featuring the most comprehensive coverage of the 2023 Mississippi governor’s race. This page, curated by the Mississippi Today politics team, will feature the biggest storylines of the 2023 governor’s race at 7 a.m. every day between now and the Nov. 7 election.
Everyone in Mississippi politics feels the momentum Democrat Brandon Presley has right now in his bid to unseat Republican Gov. Tate Reeves.
There are the finance reports that show Presley outraising Reeves, one of the most prolific fundraisers in state’s history. There are the public and private polls that show Reeves under 50 points and Presley within striking distance. There’s the mad scramble of Republican leaders begging voters to turn out on Nov. 7. Even Reeves himself has cranked up the intensity of his attacks against Presley in the past couple weeks.
The buzz among the political class — Republicans and Democrats alike — about the closeness of this governor’s race and the threat Presley poses to the incumbent has reached new heights. But some of the most experienced Democratic consultants in Mississippi are approaching the moment with caution.
To get a sense of their sentiments, Mississippi Today reached out to four Democratic consultants in Mississippi who have not worked for the Presley campaign this cycle. We offered them anonymity to frankly share what was on their mind one week from Election Day.
Their thoughts ranged from varying levels of optimism about the race to frustration about a lack of investment in the state party to knocks on Reeves’ and Presley’s strategy. (Warning: There’s some dirty language in these quotes.)
Consultant 1: “A big difference between 2019 and this year is that Jim Hood peaked in late August and then all the momentum was moving towards Tate after that. That doesn’t seem to be the case here. For Brandon to win, he needed to run a near-perfect campaign. And he’s done that. I honestly would’ve thought that Tate would be up by 6-8 points right now, but he certainly isn’t running like he’s up. Brandon started out further behind than Hood because of name ID, and the environment for Dems is not great right now. Biden is super unpopular, and the issue that has kept Democrats afloat in other states — Dobbs — isn’t relevant to this race … But I’ll say this, if Brandon does win, it’ll be because he actually, genuinely cared about winning Black voters.”
Consultant 2: “I am not being critical of out-of-state consultants. Lord knows there’s enough work here for everybody. But with the money being spent on TV, we could invest in local Democrats and people like (attorney general candidate) Greta Kemp Martin. It’s the money. We wait on national orgs to be excited enough for us to acquire the money and then we turn around and spend it how they see fit with no regard for the problems we know exist … as long as it’s machine versus machine, we risk falling short every time. Think about it like this: If the Mississippi Democratic apparatus had the funds it always needed, Brandon wouldn’t have had to spend all that money on TV to raise his own name ID after 16 years in office because that would have been done already. What we’re doing as Democrats is not sustainable. It’ll be Brandon this November, but it’s political malpractice that I can’t tell you in good faith who it’ll be in 4, 8, even 12 years.”
Consultant 3: “Does it feel different right now than it did four years ago? Yes. Do I think that means Brandon will force a runoff or win? Maybe. Brandon is a very good candidate. But if Tate decided that poor people should be able to see a doctor without going broke, I can’t imagine we’d all feel this level of uncertainty going into Election Day.”
Consultant 4: “We all kept saying it would require a perfect storm for Brandon to be competitive. And I don’t think any of us believed that those variables would align with the calendar in such a way that we would feel good a week out. But here we are, a week out, and god help me I feel cautiously optimistic? It’s terrifying. I’m impressed by the quick turn work the party itself has done to engage Black voters. I’m pleased that the Presley campaign has so visibly courted Black voters and the endorsements of high-profile Black political and faith leaders. But if I never hear ‘let’s go Brandon’ again, it’ll be too soon.”
Headlines From The Trail
What We’re Watching
1) The final campaign finance reports of the race are due today at 5 p.m., meaning Mississippi voters will get one last peek at how much money Reeves and Presley have raised and spent before the Nov. 7 election. The last report showed Presley outraised Reeves fairly substantially, though Reeves had more cash on hand to spend.
2) Milton Kuykendall — a very well-known DoSoto Countian who is the school’s former superintendent of education, a legendary high school basketball coach, and a Republican — endorsed Presley this week. DeSoto County has traditionally been a Republican stronghold, though a population boom over the past two decades (many people moving out to Memphis’ southern suburbs) is making the county more politically competitive by the cycle. The endorsement is a big get for Presley in a place that’s home to a whole lot of voters who could move the needle on Nov. 7.
3) The first and only debate between Reeves and Presley will be broadcast live on Wednesday, Nov. 1. If you’re in the Jackson metro area on Nov. 1, come to Hal & Mal’s for a free Mississippi Today watch party. Doors open at 6 p.m., we’ll stream the debate live at 7 p.m. on the big screen, and we’ll host a few minutes of live analysis as soon as it ends. Click this link for more information and to register. We hope to see you there!