Elvis’ Cousin in the Mix as Mississippi Sets Governor Lineup

  • Mississippi among three states electing governors this year
  • Incumbent Republican Reeves on track for renomination

Bloomberg Government subscribers get the stories like this first. Act now and gain unlimited access to everything you need to know. Learn more.

Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves is bragging about lowering taxes, raising teachers’ salaries and saving women’s sports from “political radicals” as he seeks another term in office.

He’s favored in the Aug. 8 primary against two political newcomers: David Hardigree, a military veteran who has talked about bringing jobs to Mississippi and reducing crime, and John Witcher, a physician who opposes Covid-19 vaccination mandates.

Morning Consult polling conducted over the first two quarters of the year found that three out of four Republicans surveyed in the state said they approved of Reeves’ job performance, and in a June Mississippi Today/Siena College poll of likely Republican primary voters, 59% favored Reeves.

There’s no primary contest for the Democrats; Brandon Presley, a second cousin of Elvis Presley who’s in his fourth term as a state public service commissioner, is unopposed in the primary.

“In some ways it reflects trends we see in national-level partisan politics,” said Brian Shoup, professor and head of the Department of Political Science and Public Administration at Mississippi State University.

“There may not be a ton of real enthusiasm for the candidates but in the absence of a compelling alternative voters from both parties line up behind the person they think can win,” Shoup said.

Transgender Emphasis

Advertising by the Reeves campaign has emphasized job growth and his opposition to transgender athletes on women’s teams. One spot features his daughter at soccer practice and highlights the sports restrictions he signed into law.

“Political radicals are trying to ruin women’s sports, letting biological men get the opportunities meant for women,” Reeves said in the ad. “We have to draw the line here in Mississippi, and as your governor, you know I will.”

Source: AdImpact
Gov. Tate Reeves (R-Miss.) in a re-election campaign ad.

Reeves also signed a law that bans hormone therapy, puberty blockers and surgery related to gender transition for those under the age of 18 who want gender-affirming health care.

It’s an issue on which Presley has chosen not to engage as he tries to become the first Democratic governor elected in the state since 1999. Presley has said that if elected he wouldn’t try to convince the GOP-controlled legislature to reverse the transgender laws.

“To win as a Democrat in a state like Mississippi, to be conservative on social issues is often a litmus test that you have to pass,” said Jessica Taylor of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report with Amy Walter. The publication rates the Mississippi gubernatorial contest “likely Republican.”

Mississippi is among three Republican-leaning states, along with Kentucky and Louisiana, that will elect governors this year.

47 Out Of 50

Reeves won his first term with 51.9% of the vote over Attorney General Jim Hood (D) and two other candidates — an unusually close contest in a state where Republicans control the Legislature and all statewide offices. The following year, Donald Trump won Mississippi with 57.6% of the vote.

The governor entered the campaign as one of the least popular governors in the country, ranking No. 47 in the Morning Consult’s most recent quarterly data.

This primary is the first time Reeves is facing the voters since dealing with a drinking water crisis in Jackson, Miss., where severe storms and flooding in August 2022 damaged the main water treatment plant. It stopped producing drinkable water and city residents were under a boil-water advisory for weeks.

The primary also gives Reeves a chance to learn the extent to which whether his party’s rank and file are still critical of his decision to leave the state for three hours just a day after tornadoes killed one person, injured dozens and destroyed many homes and businesses.

Reeves, the Republican Governors Association policy chair, went to an RGA fundraiser in Alabama on June 19. His campaign has said the event had been planned for months, money raised from it didn’t go to any specific campaign, and that Reeves was in touch with Mississippi’s emergency management officials during his trip.

Famous Cousin

Presley has been talking about pocketbook issues such as a desire to stop taxing groceries. In one of his ads, Presley saws a car in half to highlight that he wants to cut car tag fees.

He emphasizes a part of his background with no celebrity shine, telling voters how hard his mother worked to raise him and his siblings after their father died.

He also talks about how he stopped utility companies from increasing rates and brought high speed Internet service to parts of Mississippi.

“And if you make me your governor, I’ll promise you this: I’ll never forget who I am, where I came from or who sent me,” Presley says in an ad.

Source: AdImpact
Mississippi gubernatorial candidate Brandon Presley (D) saws a car in two in one of his campaign ads.

With no primary opponent, Presley’s been able to get an early start on the fall election, criticizing Reeves for hurting struggling hospitals by refusing to expand Medicaid to gain more federal dollars for the government health insurance program.

And he’s been urging voters to make a connection between the governor’s Medicaid decision and the diversion under an earlier administration of money meant for the poor going to projects that included a new volleyball facility at the University of Southern Mississippi.

Former NFL quarterback Brett Favre was involved in discussions for the facility at the school, which is his alma mater and where his daughter played volleyball. Favre has denied wrongdoing and has not been charged with a crime.

“Presley has been able to link the welfare scandal with pushing for Medicaid expansion, which Reeves has refused,” Taylor said.

It won’t be clear until November whether any of that makes a difference with voters. Meanwhile, a big share of the state’s political energy is going toward the No.2 ballot position; Republicans vying for the lieutenant governor nomination have been fighting about the incumbent’s history with a women’s health clinic and whether he performed legal work for it while the clinic offered abortions.

The challenger, state Sen. Chris McDaniel, has been linking Mississippi Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann to the South Jackson Woman’s Clinic, saying Hosemann worked for the clinic when it provided abortions. The clinic says it started providing abortions after Hosemann provided legal services for the clinic.

Abortion is a hot-button issue in Mississippi, which is the state where the case that eventually led the US Supreme Court to overturn Roe vs. Wade originated.

To contact the reporter on this story: Maura Kelly Lannan in Washington, D.C.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Katherine Rizzo at krizzo@bgov.com

Stay informed with more news like this – from the largest team of reporters on Capitol Hill – subscribe to Bloomberg Government today. Learn more.