The fundamentals suggest that Election Day 2023 should be a sensational success for the GOP.
First of all, it’s an off-year election and those tend to be tough cycles for the party that controls the White House. Plus, the trio of Gubernatorial contests are all in deep red states: Kentucky, Louisiana and Mississippi.
Today I’ll be taking a first look at the top race in the Magnolia State, where incumbent Republican Governor Tate Reeves is seeking a second term. Four years ago, then Lt. Governor Reeves faced a stronger-than-expected challenge from Democratic nominee and Attorney General Jim Hood.
Running in the Trump headwinds that led to Democratic upsets in Kentucky and Louisiana, Reeves managed to secure a slim victory; ultimately finishing with 459,396 votes (51.9%) to Hood’s 414,368 votes (46.8%).
Yet despite this close margin in 2019, Reeves should still be on a glide path to re-election this year. After all, Mississippi is such a solid red state that a Democratic Presidential nominee hasn’t won it since Jimmy Carter back in 1976. And while, for a time, Democrats could still win statewide races here, the party hasn’t prevailed in a Governor’s contest since 1999.
As a result, the only way a Republican incumbent could conceivably lose their job is if they got enmeshed in some scandal. Unfortunately for Reeves, just such a scandal is brewing as federal investigators dig into an episode involving a Hall of Fame Quarterback, state welfare funds, and Reeves’ predecessor.
To make a long story short, former NFL player and Mississippi-native Brett Favre solicited money from the state’s Department of Human Services to build a volleyball stadium for his daughter’s college team. Furthermore, text messages reveal that then-Governor Phil Bryant was not only aware of Favre’s effort but helped facilitate the improper transfer of funds. John Davis – the state’s DHS Secretary during all this – was indicted and agreed to a plea deal, strongly suggesting that he’s cooperating in the case against both Favre and Bryant.
Although no evidence has emerged connecting Gov. Reeves to the original scheme, he still faces a considerable problem. Reeves was the one who first appointed U.S. Attorney Brad Pigott to look into the possible misuse of state funds, only for Reeves to fire Pigott once the attorney subpoenaed Bryant’s communications.
Therefore, this entire episode is bound to be the Democratic nominee’s main line of attack against Governor Reeves. In fact, it would be in that candidate’s interest to run as much against Favre as Reeves. After all, it’s hard to conceive of a better punching bag than a man who earned over $140 million in his career, yet lobbied to divert state funds intended for the poor.
As for who the Democrats have that can run such a campaign, the party hopes that Brandon Presley is just the man for the job. Presley initially served as Mayor of the small town of Nettleton, before winning the first of four terms as the Public Service Commissioner for the Northern District.
He also happens to be a second cousin of Elvis Presley, a fact he made sure to mention early on in his campaign announcement video. Presley likewise used his opening ad to hammer Reeves for the aforementioned welfare funds scandal.
“Tate Reeves is a man with zero conviction and maximum corruption,” Presley charges. “He looks out for himself, and his rich friends, instead of the people that put him into office. And he’s been caught in the middle of the largest public corruption scandal in state history.”
Conversely, in his own campaign kickoff video, Gov. Reeves casts himself as the protector of “Mississippi’s culture and our way of life” from President Joe Biden and “the liberal media.”
So far, Reeves remains ahead of Presley in the first few independent surveys done of the race. For instance, an April Mississippi Today/Siena College poll found Reeves ahead by 11% (49% to 38%) while a March Magnolia Tribune/Mason-Dixon survey had Reeves up by seven points (46% to 39%).
Each candidate will face token opposition when Mississippi’s primaries are held on August 8th, and the nominees will then go on to face each other on November 7th. Make sure to stay tuned to Decision Desk HQ as this race develops over the next five months.