Gov. Tate Reeves speaks during the 2023 Neshoba County Fair in Philadelphia, Miss., Thursday, July 27, 2023. Credit: Eric Shelton/Mississippi Today

In mid-October 2019, Democrat Jim Hood held a 46% to 42% lead among likely voters over Republican Tate Reeves in the governor’s race, according to a poll conducted by the Hood campaign.

In most of the multiple internal polls conducted in 2019 by Hickman Analytics, Hood maintained a lead over Reeves. True, Hickman Analytics, a national pollster, was employed by the Hood campaign, but the intent of the poll, like most internal polls conducted by campaigns, was to provide an accurate reflection of the state of the election. None of the polls conducted by Hickman, except for one, were released to the public during the heated 2019 election.

Obviously, those polls did not reflect the outcome of the election. Reeves won 52% to 47%, or by about 45,000 votes out of the almost 875,000 votes cast.

But people who conduct polls like to say they are a snapshot in time. In October 2019, there might have been people who thought they were going to vote for Hood, but in the end did not. It is ingrained in the DNA of many Mississippians not to vote for the Democrat.

It is also reasonable to assume that in the final days of the 2019 election, there were people who had thought they were not going to vote for Tate Reeves, but in the end decided they would rather vote for a Republican they were not enamored with instead of the Democratic candidate.

If the governor’s 2023 race against Democratic challenger Brandon Presley is indeed as close as some people contend, the question is whether Mississippians are ready to vote for the Democrat instead of a Republican incumbent governor who, for whatever reason, many people have a reluctance to support. In the most recent Morning Consult rankings of the popularity of governors, only two governors were viewed more unfavorably by their constituents than Reeves was by Mississippians. Reeves was viewed as favorable by 46% and unfavorable by 44%.

In 2019, Reeves was greatly aided by a rally then-President Donald Trump held for him on the Friday before the election in Tupelo — in the heart of northeast Mississippi, which had been Hood’s base of support in past elections. Hood ended up losing that region, which he had won in four previous statewide elections for attorney general.

This year Trump will not be coming to Mississippi to stump for Reeves before the general election, but the former president did make a video endorsing him. The Reeves campaign, thrilled with the video, is running it on social media and as a television commercial.

It is of interest that in ruby red Mississippi — where a Democrat has not won the Governor’s Mansion since 1999 and where the Democratic presidential candidate has won the state only once since 1956 — that Republican Tate Reeves is depending on Donald Trump to carry him to victory.

Perhaps that says more about Reeves’ appeal to Mississippi voters than any poll.

Will the Trump endorsement have as much of an impact as many believed the Trump rally did in 2019?

In 2019, as Trump appeared in Tupelo, the U.S. House was in the process of impeaching the president. The Hood campaign believed anger over that impeachment galvanized Mississippians for the Republican Reeves in 2019. A matter of fact, Trump spoke more about the impeachment than he did about Reeves at that Tupelo rally.

This year Trump is under criminal indictment in four separate jurisdictions on charges related to trying to overthrow the 2020 presidential election he lost and for trying to hide the fact he left office with classified documents and refused to return them.

Will those criminal indictments impact the governor’s election in Mississippi positively or negatively or at all?

According to the 2019 poll, Trump was viewed favorably by 46% and unfavorably by 43%.

This time around, according to a Mississippi Today/Siena College poll conducted in August of this year, voters were more split over Trump. The poll found 49% had a favorable view of the former president while 48% had an unfavorable view.

Could the outcome of 2023 Mississippi governor’s election be predicated more on voter’s perception of Donald Trump than of Tate Reeves?

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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.