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Republican operatives sound every alarm on current trajectory of 2023 governor’s race

It might not surprise Mississippians that The Cook Political Report, regarded as one of the nation’s preeminent elections experts, shifted their 2023 Mississippi governor’s race forecast on Monday in Democrat Brandon Presley’s direction.

By Adam Ganucheau, Mississippi Today - October 24, 2023
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Mike Pence and Miss. Gov Tate Reeves on Nov. 4, 2019
Tate Reeves greets Mike Pence in Mississippi, Nov. 4, 2019. Source: The White House from Washington, DC, Public domain

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.

It might not surprise Mississippians that The Cook Political Report, regarded as one of the nation’s preeminent elections experts, shifted their 2023 Mississippi governor’s race forecast on Monday in Democrat Brandon Presley’s direction.

Presley, who is challenging Republican Gov. Tate Reeves in November, has mounted a strong, high-dollar campaign and is clearly picking up steam in a race against an incumbent who has struggled with likability problems. Polls this year have consistently shown Presley within striking distance and Reeves struggling to get 50% support.

But what may surprise many Mississippians is what at least two anonymous Republican Party operatives based in the state told Cook Political Report editor Jessica Taylor. Here’s what they said:

  • “I think Brandon has run a good race, while Reeves is soft with some Republicans, particularly moderates. [Presley has] done everything you can do, he’s been very disciplined and he’s done a very good job staying on message. It’s like he wakes up in the middle of the night and says ‘grocery tax cut, expand Medicare and corruption.’” 
  • “My concern is that Brandon Presley has had a lot of cash come his way and he’s spent aggressively on TV. To me the risk for Tate is his side tends to think he’s fine, but Tate’s likability is an issue, and I think that can affect turnout. I think the combination of that and Presley having more money makes an eight-point race closer potentially.” 
  • “My message to Republicans would be, Brandon Presley’s got a big wad of cash and there’s great risk of us having low turnout. If [Presley] spends his cash wisely on turning out the Democratic vote, this thing could be really really close.” 
  • “If Republican turnout is softer than it would be otherwise,” there’s cause for concern, one Mississippi Republican said. “But I know if Bennie is engaged,” Democrats might be able to “juice [Black turnout] somewhat.” 

For weeks, as Mississippi Today has reported, GOP operatives in Mississippi have been trying to sound the alarm. But if those quotes published Monday don’t stir the Reeves campaign into a frenzy, it might be time for the governor to find some new staffers.

The winds have clearly been shifting in recent weeks. A new poll released yesterday by the Democratic Governors Association has the race within just one point. Presley is still riding news that he out-raised Reeves over the past three months — a shock to many who regard Reeves as the state’s most successful fundraiser perhaps ever. 

And now The Cook Political Report moved the 2023 Mississippi governor’s race on Monday from “Likely Republican” to “Lean Republican” — a shift in Presley’s direction. It’s just one notch from “Toss Up.”

“Republican Gov. Tate Reeves still has the edge, according to Republicans and Democrats nationally and locally we’ve talked to, but it’s morphed into a competitive fight with added intrigue heading into Election Day thanks to an unusually strong challenger in Brandon Presley,” Taylor, the Cook editor, wrote. “There is also an increasing scenario that neither candidate will top 50% on Nov. 7, which means the contest could head to a runoff three weeks later. 

“ … Ultimately, this race has clearly become competitive, from the money that Presley has to the way Republicans are responding and beginning to worry.”

Four years ago, when Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood mounted a tough challenge of Reeves for the Governor’s Mansion, Cook moved its rating from “Likely Republican” to “Lean Republican” on Sept. 27. Reeves defeated Hood 52% to 47%.

A key difference in this year’s race than four years ago, Taylor writes, is the possibility of a runoff election. A third 2023 gubernatorial candidate, independent Gwendolyn Gray, dropped out of the race in early October and endorsed Presley, but her announced exit came too late to be removed from the ballot. She could earn enough votes to keep Reeves or Presley from reaching 50%, which would push those two candidates to a Nov. 28 runoff election.

The alarms inside the Mississippi GOP are blaring, and Democrats feel like they have momentum. We said it yesterday and we’ll say it again today: Just 14 days from Election Day, there’s plenty of drama.

Headlines From The Trail

New governor’s race poll shows Reeves leading Presley by just one point

House Minority Leader Robert Johnson: Black turnout could be key in upcoming election

Mississippi governor’s race moves from Likely to Lean Republican

Delayed homicide autopsies pile up in Mississippi despite tough-on-crime-talk

Presley focuses on Black turnout as governor’s race enters final weeks

Presley, other statewide candidates engage crowd at NAACP forum 

Poverty is among Mississippi voters’ main concerns in the upcoming election

Poll has Republican Gov. Tate Reeves leading challenger Brandon Presley by 1 point

Abortion is on the ballot in November. The outcome will shape 2024.

10 Medicaid holdout states scramble to improve health coverage

What We’re Watching

1) Both candidates are absolutely tearing up Mississippi’s less-than-stellar roads. Yesterday, Reeves made stops in Columbus, Macon and Noxubee County. Presley made stops in West Point, Meridian and Laurel.

2) What on earth happened at U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith’s home in Brookhaven on Sunday? Mississippi Today’s Bobby Harrison reported Monday that U.S. Secret Service is investigating after someone fired shots near her home. Gun rights and gun violence hasn’t been mentioned on the 2023 trail, but there’s two weeks left. Might the incident force the candidates into discussing a new issue?

3) Both Reeves and Presley will speak to the state’s top business leaders at the annual Hobnob lunch hosted by the Mississippi Economic Council on Oct. 26. It’s one of few venues where both candidates speak to the same room. They won’t be on stage together, but there could still be some fireworks.

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.


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