It’s October, which means we’ve finally reached the heart of election season.
In Louisiana they take this quite literally, as the first round of their jungle primary is set for October 14th. Under this system a slew of candidates compete for state offices, including the Governorship, with only the top two finishers advancing to a November 18th run-off (unless someone wins a majority of the vote in the first round).
As I’ve noted before, the two favorites to move on to November in the Gubernatorial contest are Republican Attorney General Jeff Landry and Democratic Transportation Secretary Shawn Wilson. At this moment, polls show Wilson in the mid-20s, while Landry is flirting with the 40% mark.
As you might expect for the front-runner, Landry is less eager to participate in debates than his various competitors, attending just one of four such gatherings. Conversely, the trailing Wilson is accepting as many invitations as possible.
Of course, both these strategies make perfect sense for each candidate. After all, Landry has already won two statewide contests in deep red Louisiana, so he has no need to really expose himself. Meanwhile Wilson – who’s yet to win a single election in his lifetime and is seeking to become the state’s first Black Governor since Reconstruction – hopes to benefit from additional attention.
At the same time, when it comes to his TV commercials, Landry is heavily emphasizing both his personal biography and an anti-crime message. For instance, in one such ad, the narrator asserts that “woke Judges and DAs should be held accountable” while pledging that Landry will be “a Governor that will finally restore law and order.”
On the other hand, Wilson’s ad campaign is focused on convincing voters that he can reach across the partisan aisle. “We need a Governor who builds bridges, not burns them” Wilson contends in one spot as he attempts to invoke his Cabinet experience.
This jungle primary technically already started, as early voting began on September 30th and runs to October 7th. Elections Daily rates the contest as “Safe Republican”, while Sabato’s Crystal Ball classifies it as “Likely Republican” and the Cook Political Report puts it as “Lean Republican”.
Mississippi Gubernatorial Race: Tate Reeves vs. Brandon Presley
The process is much simpler in Mississippi, where incumbent Republican Governor Tate Reeves and Democratic challenger Brandon Presley both won their party’s nominations back in August, setting up a show-down on November 7th.
Unlike Louisiana, where retiring Democratic incumbent Gov. John Bel Edwards was elected just four years ago, Mississippi hasn’t elected a Democratic Governor since 1999. As a result, Gov. Reeves enjoys a considerable advantage, with the only obstacle in his path being a certain high-profile state scandal.
This episode involves Reeves’ predecessor Phil Bryant and NFL Hall-of-Fame Quarterback Brett Favre using money from the state’s Department of Human Services to build a volleyball stadium for the college of Favre’s daughter. The main problem for Reeves is that, after first appointing U.S. Attorney Brad Pigott to investigate the case, he then fired Pigott after Pigott subpoenaed Bryant’s communications.
As a result, Democrats are desperately trying to use the Favre scandal to sink Reeves, and they got a bit of a gift a month ago when Mississippi Today reported that Reeves’ brother reached out to the State Auditor in an attempt to convince him to clear Favre’s name. While embarrassing, though, this story didn’t contain the sort of ‘smoking gun’ revelation needed to actually change the complexion of this race.
Nevertheless, the Reeves campaign is clearly worried about the scandal, devoting an entire commercial to distancing Reeves from the episode. As for the rest of his TV ads, Reeves is seeking to tie Presley to national Democrats like President Biden, while touting his own first-term accomplishments. His campaign also clearly feels that transgender youth are a useful wedge issue, as they’ve made multiple spots hammering Presley for opposing a bill Reeves signed that bans “sex changes for children”.
Meanwhile, Presley is presenting himself as a different kind of Democrat and focusing on his pledge to expand Medicaid. At the same time, his attacks on Reeves are centered on the Governor’s connection to the aforementioned Favre scandal and Reeves’ unwillingness to agree to a debate.
Similarly to the Louisiana contest, Elections Daily rates this as a “Safe Republican” contest, whereas Sabato’s Crystal Ball considers it “Likely Republican”. The one difference from the Bayou State is that the Cook Political Report classifies this race as “Likely Republican”.
Make sure to come back to Decision Desk HQ to follow along as election results come in from Louisiana on October 14th. You can also be sure that we’ll be following the results in Mississippi as part of our Election Night 2023 coverage. Finally, in the event of a run-off in Louisiana, make sure to return on November 18th.