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.
Ballots are printed, polls are open and voters are ready to end this awfully contentious 2023 governor’s race.
There’s good reason the nation is closely watching what happens in Mississippi today in the race between Republican Gov. Tate Reeves and Democratic challenger Brandon Presley.
Republicans are hoping to continue their 20-year reign of the governorship and further their so-far successful effort to make Mississippi a one-party state. Democrats, meanwhile, haven’t had this much hope for a win since arguably 2003, when then-Gov. Ronnie Musgrove got beat by Republican challenger Haley Barbour.
For Republicans, that 2003 election was the beginning of what has become a nearly total grip on Mississippi government. For Democrats, it was the beginning of the end.
But today, Democrats have real reason to think they can reclaim some of that GOP control.
Reeves, one of the most prominent political fundraisers in the state’s history, has been outraised by $5 million. He’s consistently polled as unpopular, yet he faces a smooth-talking, affable cousin of Elvis, one of the state’s most beloved celebrities. He’s struggled to enthuse Republican voters ahead of today’s election, yet he faces an apparently fired up electorate targeted by the most broadly coordinated get-out-the-vote effort Democrats have waged in recent history.
Contemplating these strong headwinds in the last month of the campaign, the first-term Republican governor leaned into one major campaign theme: Fear. He’s worked to make Mississippians feel afraid of an impending infringement on “Mississippi values.” He and his allies have tried to convince voters that Presley is beholden to national Democrats, ignoring the fact that Democratic Party voters have recently made up nearly 50% of the state he leads.
The governor has pitched few new ideas all cycle, and he certainly hasn’t focused on them in the run-up to Election Day. Instead, he’s chosen to dwell on fear, fear and fear.
The final words many voters will hear from Reeves before they cast their votes today say it all: “The out-of-state liberals don’t just want to change governors; they want to change Mississippi. That’s what this race is about. The only thing that stands in their way is you and me. Let’s make our stand.”
Presley, on the other hand, has floated new policies to, he says, move the state forward. Yes, he has weaved in attacks of Reeves at every given opportunity, and yes, Mississippians are certainly tired of it. But in the same breath, he has contrasted Reeves’ record with three of his own ideas since the day he announced his candidacy in January.
Presley wants to expand Medicaid to provide health coverage to 200,000-plus Mississippians and address the state’s worsening hospital crisis, a policy change Reeves has long refused. He wants to clean up corruption in state government, pointing out regularly that Reeves himself has many ties to the state’s massive welfare scandal. And he wants to cut the state’s highest-in-the-nation grocery tax and car tag fees, ideas he says Reeves hasn’t worked to do in 12-plus years of prominent leadership roles.
“I understand where working people are in Mississippi,” Presley says in his final ad before Election Day. “Everybody cannot be born rich and lucky, and that’s why you need a governor that will stand up for the values of Mississippi. I’m running this race on the values that I learned in my small hometown where I was mayor and I cut taxes twice.”
But seriously, you may ask, isn’t Mississippi still the Mississippi that most of those folks watching around the nation think it is? Reeves today very well could earn the support many would expect of a Republican incumbent in this red state. Perhaps the Republican and Democratic pollsters who have been crunching the numbers are wrong, and Reeves isn’t nearly as unlikable as the data have shown.
Maybe the fear mongering from Reeves worked, and maybe Presley, who’s still not very well known in all parts of the state, couldn’t convince enough Mississippians that he’s not the big, bad liberal Reeves has made him out to be. Maybe Presley’s influx of cash from out-of-state Democrats scared off too many of the voters he’s been targeting.
But maybe the pollsters are right about Reeves and Mississippians are ready for a change in leadership. Maybe Presley did, in fact, do enough to sell voters on electing a leader with different ideas for the future. Maybe Mississippi voters aren’t falling for the fear tactics of Reeves.
That’s a whole lot of “maybes.” Maybe that’s why the country is watching so closely today.
We’ll know in a few hours.
Headlines From The Trail
What We’re Watching
1) The results, of course. Mississippi Today is your one stop Election Day source for previews, what to watch for, analyses, and real-time election results. Once results start rolling in at 7 p.m., this link on our site will have the live results.
2) Voting irregularities, polling place problems, hacked state computer systems, or scams. If you hear of anything or see anything, first call the Mississippi Secretary of State’s election hotline at 800-829-6786. If you’re inclined to report to us, we will do our best to get answers for you. Send concerns or questions to email@example.com.
3) Will there be a runoff? Republican and Democratic consultants have made it clear that they’re geared up for a Nov. 28 runoff if neither Reeves nor Presley gets 50% of the vote today. And one more thing to note: If the election is as close as some predict, a winner might not be known tonight. Mississippi Today’s Bobby Harrison breaks down this vote-counting scenario.