Mississippi Republican Gov. Tate Reeves wins 2nd term, defeating Democrat Brandon Presley

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Mississippi Republican Gov. Tate Reeves address supporters at his gubernatorial reelection watch party in Flowood, Miss., Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2023. Reeves has won a second term. He defeated Democrat Brandon Presley. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi Republican Gov. Tate Reeves won a second term Tuesday in the conservative state where his party dominates.

Reeves defeated challenger Brandon Presley, who raised more money and made an aggressive push to give Democrats a rare statewide victory in the Deep South.

“Mississippi has momentum, and this is Mississippi’s time,” Reeves told cheering supporters at a party in the Jackson suburb of Flowood, reflecting the main theme of his campaign.

The mood at Presley’s party in Jackson, the capital city, was somber as he said hours after the polls closed: “Tonight’s a setback, but we’re not going to lose hope. … This campaign elevated issues that had to be elevated in Mississippi.”

The race was unusually competitive for this GOP stronghold. But Reeves prevailed with a message focused on job creation, low unemployment and improvements in education. He also cast Presley as a liberal backed by out-of-state donors who were out of step with Mississippi.

“For you to believe Brandon Presley in anything that he says, you’ve got to believe that everything in Mississippi is bad,” Reeves said last week during the candidates’ only debate.

Presley, a state utility regulator and second cousin of Elvis Presley, said Reeves had hurt the state by refusing to expand Medicaid to cover people working lower-wage jobs that do not provide health insurance. Presley pledged to clean up government corruption, pointing to welfare money that was spent on pet projects for the wealthy and well-connected rather than aid for some of the poorest people in one of the poorest states in the nation.

“He’s not going to open his mouth about ethics reform,” Presley said of Reeves. “He is the poster child of this broken, corrupt system.”

Republicans have held the Mississippi governorship for the past 20 years. They hold all statewide offices and a wide majority in the Legislature. The last time a Democrat won the presidential vote in Mississippi was 1976, when Georgia’s Jimmy Carter was on the ballot.

The hard-fought contest was disrupted by a voting mess when polling places in the state’s largest county ran out of ballots and voters endured long lines in the key Democratic stronghold. One judge ordered all polls in the county to remain open an extra hour, until 8 p.m. CST. Another judge said four polling places in some suburbs of Jackson had to extend voting until 9 p.m.

Hinds County election commissioners — all Democrats — were said to have underestimated the turnout and failed to have enough ballots on hand. Long lines of frustrated voters were kept waiting for batches of ballots that arrived and then ran out again.

“Sheer incompetence,” said Perry Perkins, an organizer for Working Together Mississippi, a nonpartisan group that coordinates voter mobilization. “This is a travesty.”

Presley’s campaign raised $11.3 million this year, compared with Reeves’ $6.3 million. But Reeves started the year with more money. By late October, Presley spent $10.8 million and still had $1.3 million, while Reeves spent $11 million and still had $1.2 million.

Reeves, 49, served two terms as state treasurer and two as lieutenant governor before winning an open race for governor in 2019.

Presley, 46, was mayor of his small hometown of Nettleton for six years and before being elected in 2007 to the three-person Mississippi Public Service Commission, which regulates utilities.

In other contests:

— Republican Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann won a second term by defeating a Democratic challenger who had spent little money, business consultant D. Ryan Grover. In a contentious Republican primary in August, Hosemann defeated state Sen. Chris McDaniel.

— Republican Attorney General Lynn Fitch, whose office led the legal fight to overturn Roe v. Wade and change abortion access, also captured a second term by defeating Democrat Greta Kemp Martin, an attorney for Disability Rights Mississippi.

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