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.
GULFPORT — The Mississippi Gulf Coast is one gubernatorial candidate’s firewall of support, and it’s where his opponent is dreaming of an upset.
Republican Gov. Tate Reeves and Democratic challenger Brandon Presley made final campaign pitches over the weekend to voters on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, one of the state’s political battleground areas that could determine the outcome of Tuesday’s election.
Presley wrapped up his final campaign event in Gulfport on Saturday night by speaking to a group of organized labor union members, some of whom have canvassed in the area for the Democratic candidate.
“He doesn’t understand the struggles of average Mississippians,” Presley said of Reeves at the rally. “Not only does he not understand — he doesn’t care.”
Presley sits at a major disadvantage in winning most of the areas on the Coast. He’s a native and former mayor of Nettleton, a small town on the opposite end of the state, and he’s never appeared on a ballot in south Mississippi.
But he told Mississippi Today that because his campaign has worked to build name ID and established a ground game in the area, he believes he can surprise people by picking off certain voting precincts.
“We’re already beginning to see data that shows we’re going to be extremely competitive down here,” Presley said on Saturday. “One of the things that I think Tate has shown in this campaign is he’s kind of taken the Coast for granted as if somewhere they’re just supposed to vote for him for some reason.”
It’s unclear what Reeves’ final pitch to coastal voters was. His campaign did not make Mississippi Today aware of his campaign events ahead of time, and his campaign spokesman did not respond to requests to report on his weekend campaign activities.
He posted on social media that he spoke at a Friday night event hosted by Pass Christian Mayor Jimmy Rafferty and visited with workers at Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula.
Reeves, a Rankin County native, has used his 20 years in public office to strategically cultivate a relationship with leaders in the coastal counties.
During his two terms as lieutenant governor between 2012 and 2020, Reeves went out of his way to visit the Coast. Long eyeing an eventual run for the Governor’s Mansion, he hosted several town halls and press conferences over those years, typically focused on funding opportunities for the region.
Since he started his term as governor in January 2020, however, the governor has doubled down on that focus, sprinkling the region with hundreds of millions in federal grants administered by state agencies that report to him. And Reeves tapped Frank Bordeaux, a longtime Gulf Coast resident, to lead the Mississippi Republican Party.
Hancock County Tax Assessor Jimmie Ladner told Mississippi Today earlier this year that Reeves recognized the political and economic importance of the area early on in his political career, which is something political and business leaders appreciated.
“I think when you boil it down to a nutshell of why I support Tate Reeves, just candidly, he recognizes the importance of the Coast, and he doesn’t just recognize our importance every four years,” Ladner said. “And that’s the key. He’s here when we need him.”
While the coastal counties’ results in statewide elections paint them as a conservative haven and a firewall for Reeves, Democrats think the region is ripe for creating political change.
Community activists, lawmakers and local elected officials told Mississippi Today the Coast’s transient community contains a raft of Democratic voters that party leaders and statewide candidates often ignore because of its collective conservative tilt.
The communities that makeup Harrison, Hancock and Jackson counties are more diverse than other areas of the state and home to thousands of union-paying jobs.
State and national Democrats appear to be taking notice and have worked this year use these factors to their advantage and shed more of a spotlight on the region.
Democratic National Committee Chairman Jaime Harrison visited Gulfport in August and state party leaders have pledged to organize more strategically on the Coast in the future.
Democratic Rep. Jeffrey Hulum of Gulfport told Mississippi Today that Democrats on the Coast may be outnumbered, but there are still a large number of voters in Harrison, Hancock and Jackson counties that could sway a statewide election.
“Look, people are fired up down here,” Hulum said. “My advice to anyone is to stop taking us for granted.”
Headlines From The Trail
What We’re Watching
1) This past Saturday was the deadline for absentee voting, and the number of ballots requested officially surpassed the number of ballots requested for 2019, according to data from the Secretary of State’s office. In 2019, 58,142 absentee ballots were requested before the election. In 2023, 62,121 have been requested. It can often be tough to glean exact trends from absentee breakdowns, but it’s safe to expect an analysis from Mississippi Today before Election Day.
2) It may be the very last thing any Mississippian wants to hear, but if Tuesday’s election is as close as some predict, a winner might not be known that night. Mississippi Today’s Bobby Harrison breaks down this nightmare vote-counting scenario for us.
3) Could Presley’s potential success have some effect for Democrats down ballot? Democrats are notably challenging all eight Republican incumbents. Most notably of the challengers, Democrat Greta Kemp Martin has waged a formidable campaign against Attorney General Lynn Fitch. Mississippi Today’s Taylor Vance took a deep dive on Martin’s platform.