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Wednesday, December 6, 2023
Courthouse News Service
Wednesday, December 6, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Republican Tate Reeves holds onto Mississippi governor’s office

Despite favorable polls, a robust fundraising effort and a populist message, Democratic challenger Brandon Presley failed to drive voters to the polls.

(CN) — Incumbent Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves bested Democratic challenger Brandon Presley Tuesday, who, despite significant spending and a populist message, failed to drive voters to the polls with promises of Medicaid expansion, tax reduction and investment in schools and jobs.

Reeves, whom Presley attacked for being ineffective and corrupt, painted Presley as a liberal funded by out-of-state interests, while also touting his own record of low unemployment, improvements in student testing and a record high budget surplus. But in recent months, Reeves appeared vulnerable to evidence tying him to the state’s $94 million welfare scandal and division within the Legislature, among other things. 

As recently as Oct. 2, one poll suggested Presely was within one point of Reeves, but the governor likely got a late boost from the endorsement of Donald Trump on Oct. 31. President Joe Biden stayed away from the race, although it’s unclear if Presley sought his endorsement. 

Although Mississippi has the largest percentage of Black residents of any state in the nation, it hasn’t had a Democratic governor since 2004, it has no Democrat serving in a statewide office, and it is governed by a supermajority of predominately white Republicans in the state Legislature. Donald Trump won the state with 57% of the vote in 2020.  

However, despite some $20 million spent between the two candidates on the campaign, it appears fewer voters were inspired to turn out than in 2019, when more than 884,000 ballots were cast and Reeves won with 51.9% of the vote. With 94% of votes counted Tuesday, 787,653 ballots had been tallied and Reeves was leading with 51.6% of the vote. 

An independent candidate, Gwendolyn Gray, garnered around 2% of the vote statewide, which was less than half the amount needed to force the election into a runoff. 

The election was not without controversy, however. In Hinds County, the state’s largest, reports emerged of some precincts exhausting their supply of ballots. According to an emergency complaint for injunctive relief filed by Mississippi Votes, four precincts in the Jackson area did not have enough ballots for voters, driving some potential voters away. 

Larnee Satchell, a voting rights coordinator with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, filed an affidavit claiming the precinct at the United Methodist Church in Raymond, Mississippi, ran out of ballots around 3 p.m., when a line of some 40 to 50 people were waiting to vote. Satchell also noted a Baptist church in Clinton, Mississippi, ran out of ballots three times before 4:45 p.m.

In Byram, about 10 miles southwest of downtown Jackson, a poll watcher named Elizabeth Moens said the Byrum City Hall “ran out of ballots for two hours.”

“According to the precinct manager, while waiting for additional ballots and cards, some people left and others were waiting in line,” she stated in an affidavit. 

Special Appointed Judge Jess H. Dickinson allowed a total of four precincts to remain open until 9 p.m., two hours later than scheduled. 

Presley, a public service commissioner and former mayor of Nettleton, Mississippi, performed well in predominantly Black Hinds County and the Mississippi Delta. But he did not find any particular support among historically Republican counties, where some suggested support for Reeves had diminished. Lee and Monroe counties, which straddle the town of Nettleton, voted for Reeves 56% and 54%, respectively. 

According to their October campaign finance reports, Presley had raised a total of $11.6 million during the campaign, 75% of which was pulled in from out of state. His primary beneficiary was the Democratic Governors Association, which kicked in $5.8 million. 

Reeves raked in about $9.7 million, with in-state donations comprising roughly 69% of his total.

During a victory speech Tuesday evening, Reeves thanked Trump and his supporters while he highlighted successes of his first term and the conservative talking points of his campaign. He pledged to further improve schools, job opportunities and infrastructure while “doing everything in my power to rally fellow Mississipians.” 

“I value your trust, I’m humbled by your support and I’m fired up for the next four years.,” Reeves said. 

Reeves is limited to two terms.

In his own comments to supporters, Presley said he spoke with Reeves to concede and wished him well. 

“I respect the decision of the voters of Mississippi because that’s what makes our democracy what it is,” Presley said. “This campaign has been tough and I feel like to a certain degree we live that line in Amazing Grace: ‘through many dangers, toils and snares, I have already come.’ It’s been a rough road at times but it’s been worth it to elevate the issues.” 

Presley also made an appeal for bipartisanship and racial unity going forward.

“We can lose this race tonight recognizing good people on the other side … It was important to me to run a campaign where we truthfully, truthfully worked to bridge the racial divide,” he said. “You can run a campaign and you can run an administration that pulls the state together.”

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Categories / Government, Politics

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