Republican former congressman endorses Democratic nominee in Mississippi governor's race

The last Republican who lost a general election for Mississippi governor is endorsing the Democratic nominee this year

Emily Wagster Pettus
Wednesday 20 September 2023 22:48 BST
Election 2023 Mississippi Governor
Election 2023 Mississippi Governor (Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

The last Republican who lost a general election for Mississippi governor is endorsing the Democratic nominee in this year's race.

Democrat Brandon Presley's campaign released a statement Wednesday from former U.S. Rep. Mike Parker, who said he is choosing Presley over first-term Republican Gov. Tate Reeves.

“It’s a big deal for me as a former Republican member of Congress and as a former Republican nominee for governor to vote for a Democrat,” Parker said. “But I’m supporting Brandon Presley because he’s a good man, he’s a conservative, he’s pro-life, and he’s exactly what Mississippi needs at this point in time. Tate Reeves has failed Mississippi. Brandon will not.”

Presley has been trying to appeal to voters across party lines.

“I want to win this election with a bipartisan, biracial coalition — for Black Mississippians and white Mississippians, Republicans, Democrats, independents,” Presley said during an appearance last week in Summit.

Parker was elected to Congress from a southwest Mississippi district in 1988 as a Democrat. He became a Republican in November 1995, a year after the GOP gained control of the U.S. House.

Parker was the Republican nominee for governor in 1999, and lost a close race to Democrat Ronnie Musgrove, who was lieutenant governor.

Reeves campaign spokesperson Clifton Carroll said in a statement Wednesday: “It's no surprise that former Democrat Congressman Mike Parker, who endorsed Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden, is continuing his trend of endorsing liberal democrats.”

In 2016, Parker was among 30 Republicans who had served in Congress who signed a letter saying they could not support Republican nominee Donald Trump for president. The letter said Trump “makes a mockery of the principles and values we have cherished and which we sought to represent.”

In 2020, Parker was among more than two dozen Republican former members of Congress who endorsed Democrat Joe Biden over Trump.

Reeves has supported Trump, and Trump endorsed Reeves in 2019.

The 1999 governor's race had to be decided in the Mississippi House because neither Musgrove nor Parker fulfilled the two requirements to win the race, which also had two little-known candidates. To win a governor's race at the time, a candidate had to receive at least 50% of the popular vote and win at least 62 of the 122 state House districts.

Musgrove received a few thousand more votes than Parker but fell short of a majority. Musgrove and Parker each won 61 House districts. House members were not obligated to vote as their districts did, and the Democratic-controlled House elected Musgrove, with many members saying they voted for him because he received more of the popular vote than Parker.

Republicans have controlled the Mississippi House since 2012. And, Mississippi voters in 2020 repealed the two-pronged requirement for electing a governor. Winning now requires a simple majority of the popular vote. If more than two candidates are running and nobody wins a majority, the race goes to a runoff three weeks later.

An independent candidate, Gwendolyn Gray, is on the ballot along with Reeves and Presley in the Nov. 7 general election.

Musgrove served one term as governor before losing to Republican Haley Barbour in 2003. After Barbour served two terms, which is the maximum allowed by Mississippi law, he was succeeded by Republican Phil Bryant, who also served two terms before Reeves was elected in 2019.

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