Controversial Gov. Tate Reeves defeats Elvis’s cousin in Mississippi’s highly contested race

Republicans stave off a Democratic gubernatorial sweep with a win in the deep South

John Bowden
Washington DC
Wednesday 08 November 2023 13:21 GMT
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Louise Thomas

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Mississippi voters rejected the second cousin of Elvis Presley on Tuesday evening, unwilling to oust an unpopular Republican governor in favour of a Democrat.

Tate Reeves was on track to win re-election as Brandon Presley came up short across the state; the 46-year-old white Democrat had sought to build alliances with Mississippi’s sizeable Black population but ultimately failed to do so in numbers that would have made him competitive in a state where white voters largely vote conservative.

Mr Presley ran a typical Blue Dog Democrat campaign, and his defeat on Tuesday could possibly be blamed on an inability to excite his own base. Unlike other Democrats around the country, including other red states such as Kentucky, the Mississippian had campaigned in support of his state’s sweeping abortion ban; the decision won him early sceptics among some political experts in the state.

His decision to run away from the agenda of the Biden administration won him no love from the national party either; however, the Democratic Governor’s Association (DGA) spent heavily in support of his bid, allowing him to outraise the incumbent governor by several million. The Democrat conceded his race just before midnight.

Mr Reeves’s victory could hardly be attributed to his popularity. The Republican official had an approval rating of just 46 per cent in a Morning Consult poll released at the end of October, and continues to face questions about how state welfare funds were managed when he was previously serving as lieutenant governor. More than $77m of funds intended for Mississippi’s neediest families were instead misused or funneled directly to politically-connected persons. The state has one of the highest poverty levels in America.

Still, the governor prevailed over Mr Presley, whose outreach to Black voters was heralded nonetheless as a potent and necessary strategy in southern states with larger Black voting populations; other white Democrats who mounted similar statewide campaigns failed to mobilise the Black vote and lost by far greater margins than Mr Presley was set to experience.

Mississippi was a bright spot for the GOP on a night that saw several victories for the left and the Democratic Party around the country. In Kentucky, a Democratic governor beat back his Republican opponent backed by Mitch McConnell, the conservative bastion’s senior senator. In Ohio, progressives rallied to pass ballot measures legalising marijuana and enshrining abortion as a constitutional right. And in Virginia, Republicans tried and failed to gain a majority in the state Senate.

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