PEARL — When Stephanie Harvey goes to her local polling precinct to vote on Nov. 7, the top issue that will determine which candidates she’ll vote for is Medicaid expansion to provide health coverage to the working poor. 

Harvey lives in Brandon, a suburb outside the capital city of Jackson, and works at a job that does not offer health insurance benefits. She could obtain insurance through the private market, but Harvey told Mississippi Today that she couldn’t afford that option. 

“There’s a lot of people who need that health insurance, and I’m one of them,” Harvey said. “I’m out here working, and I just don’t have the money to pay for it.” 

Incumbent Republican Gov. Tate Reeves, who is running for reelection, is opposed to expansion because he believes Mississippi can’t afford to enact the program and has described the policy as “welfare expansion.” 

Brandon Presley, the Democratic nominee for governor, believes the state should expand Medicaid coverage because more than 200,000 Mississippians could get health insurance, and economists project it would generate billions of dollars in revenue for Mississippi. 

Harvey said she doesn’t consider expansion welfare because the people who would benefit from the program are “already working and trying to make a living.” 

She was one of several Rankin County voters who visited Harvey’s Fish Hut in Pearl on Friday afternoon and had the chance to visit with Democratic candidates running for office. And while Democratic leaders and candidates visited with customers, most of the patrons had no prior knowledge that the politicians would be there during the lunch rush. 

Jessie Griffith, a Pearl resident, also said the top issue for him this election is Medicaid expansion, primarily because studies show the state would experience economic growth if state leaders approve the program.

“Mississippi would probably be about $5 billion richer if we had signed up for that,” Griffith said. 

Joe Powell, a Pearl resident, said he’s become frustrated at the state Legislature and most of Mississippi’s statewide officials for not getting to the bottom of the state’s sprawling welfare scandal in which millions of dollars meant for the state’s poorest people instead went toward projects that prosecutors say were unlawful.

“I don’t receive TANF funds, but when I see people have taken money from the least of us, that should sicken all of us,” Powell said. 

The other main topic he is concerned about is developing the capital city, and he wants to elect candidates that promise better relationships between state leaders and local officials. 

“When people come to Mississippi to do business, they usually come to the capital city,” Powell said.

The weekend before the election, the two candidates for governor are traveling around the state to make last-minute campaign pitches to voters. 

Presley campaigned in Ridgeland and throughout the Delta region on Friday. On Saturday, he campaigned in north Mississippi and will end the night with a rally on the Gulf Coast. 

Reeves’ campaign has not issued press releases detailing where he plans to campaign during the last few days of the election cycle. However, the governor’s profile on X, formerly Twitter, shows he visited Oxford on Saturday morning, and he head to Starkville Saturday evening. The governor has visited places in Amory, Clark County, Waynesboro and Lucedale over the past several days. 

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Taylor, a native of Grenada, covers state government and statewide elections. He is a graduate of the University of Mississippi and Holmes Community College. Before joining Mississippi Today, Taylor reported on state and local government for the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, where he received an award for his coverage of the federal government’s lawsuit against the state’s mental health system.