Can Elvis Presley’s cousin take the Mississippi governor’s mansion for the Democrats?

Will a famous last name be enough to defeat a scandal-ridden incumbent?

John Bowden
Washington DC
Tuesday 07 November 2023 21:57 GMT
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Louise Thomas

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He’s actually just a second cousin.

Brandon Presley’s bid for governor is significant for a number of reasons — one of which happens to be the star power evoked by his last name, a gift from the late great King of Rock and Roll. On Tuesday, he could take a governor’s mansion for the Democratic Party in deep-red Mississippi — further exacerbating the woes of the GOP at a time when their party is wracked by internal turmoil and in the thrall of a likely nominee facing a record 90-plus felony criminal charges.

Mr Presley heads into Election Day with key disadvantages. He trails incumbent Republican Gov Tate Reeves in most polls, and has never held a statewide political office. But there are reasons to be hopeful for Democrats as well: The governor is mired in a corruption scandal surrounding the misuse of state welfare funds, and is subsequently one of the least popular incumbent state executives in the country. Mr Presley has not been shy in attacking his opponent over the issue, which drew national attention after it was reported that NFL great Brett Favre had received some of the state’s welfare money and used it to build a sports complex.

There’s also the work the Democratic candidate has done to build support among Mississippi’s Black voters — roughly 40 per cent of the state’s population, and a rising political force in Mississippi which have traditionally been a key part of the Democratic coalition.

He has also, crucially, outraised the incumbent: A surprising $5m advantage for the entire cycle that suggests he at least had the resources to define his campaign and his opponent on the air.

The ground is certainly set for a possible upset on Tuesday, though the advantage clearly remains in Mr Reeves’s camp. Democrats hoping for a surprise win tonight will be looking to Mississippi’s voter turnout levels for signs of good news throughout the evening. One local Democratic activist who spoke to ABC News, however, was not optimistic about whether Mr Presley’s outreach had paid off in Black communitites.

"I don't think that we've made the case effectively that voting for Brandon ... can actually turn it around on these people who don't care about us to say, 'We do have somebody now who will advocate for us,’” Cathy McNair told the news outlet.

Somewhat revealingly for Democrats on the national stage (and another piece of bad news for their 2024 dreams), the 46-year-old former mayor hoping to unseate Mr Reeves is firmly running away from Joe Biden, his party’s national standard-bearer.

Talking with ABC News for an Election-Day profile on his campaign, Mr Presley said: "I can handle this race myself.”

“I'm just as disappointed in so many things in the Biden administration as the next person."

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