Reeves, Presley, and Gray running in Mississippi gubernatorial election

Incumbent Tate Reeves (R), Brandon Presley (D), and Gwendolyn Gray (independent) are running in the general election for governor of Mississippi on Nov. 7, 2023.

Reeves was elected in 2019 by five percentage points. According to Mississippi College political science professor Glenn Antizzo, Reeves’ margin of victory was “less than the usual split between Republicans and Democrats in Mississippi.” Reeves became the first Republican state treasurer in Mississippi’s history when he was elected to the position in 2003. Reeves was elected lieutenant governor in 2011 and served for two terms. Reeves highlighted his record as governor, including what he said was a record-low 3.1% unemployment rate, the largest tax cut in state history, and a record increase in teacher pay. He said he would work toward eliminating the state income tax, improving the foster care system, and attracting businesses.

Presley has represented the Northern District of the Mississippi Public Service Commission since 2008. Presley was the mayor of Nettleton, Mississippi, from 2001 to 2007. During this time, Presley said he cut taxes and balanced the city’s budget. As governor, he said he would cut taxes, including car tag fees and the grocery tax, fight government corruption, lower the cost of healthcare, expand Medicaid, and create jobs.

A Mississippi Today/Siena College poll conducted between Aug. 20 and 28 found that Reeves led Presley 52% to 41%. The margin of error was ± 4.0 percentage points. Writing for Mississippi Today, Taylor Vance said, “The poll also surveyed favorable and unfavorable sentiments for both candidates, with the governor having a relatively high unfavorability rating and Presley having a sizeable problem with name recognition.”

The poll also found that 90% “had some measure of worry about the state’s welfare scandal.” On Feb. 5, 2020, John Davis, the former executive director of the Mississippi Department of Human Services, was arrested for misspending approximately $77 million in welfare funds. The misappropriation of welfare funds occurred when Reeves was the lieutenant governor. Reeves has not been charged in relation to the scandal and has denounced it. He said it was “a truly disgusting abuse of power.” Reeves has said his campaign “would donate contributions from those implicated in the welfare scandal to charity,” while a Reeves’ spokesperson said that the administration has “launched lawsuits against everyone who the state believes owes money back.” Presley has made the welfare scandal and government corruption a prominent part of his campaign. He proposed “enacting new policies so that the largest corruption scandal in state history doesn’t happen again and strengthening the Ethics Commission so Mississippians have an independent watchdog they can be proud of.”

As of Sept. 19, 2023, The Cook Political Report and Larry J. Sabato’s Crystal Ball have rated the race Likely Republican, while Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales has rated the race Lean Republican.

Mississippi has a Republican trifecta, meaning Republicans control the office of governor and both chambers of the state legislature. As of September 2023, there were 22 Republican trifectas, 17 Democratic trifectas, and 11 divided governments. Mississippi also has a Republican triplex, meaning Republicans hold the offices of governor, attorney general, and secretary of state. As of September 2023, there were 24 Republican triplexes, 20 Democratic triplexes, and six divided governments.

Heading into the election, Mississippi was one of 26 states with a Republican governor. Democrats held the governorship in 24 states. The last Democrat elected governor of Mississippi was David Ronald “Ronnie” Musgrove in 1999.