Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves speaks about Covid-19 testing in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, DC, September 28, 2020. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN / AFP) (Photo by MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)
Mandel Ngan | Afp | Getty Images
Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves, a Republican, faces a surprisingly competitive race Tuesday as his Democratic challenger Brandon Presley champions Medicaid expansion, a position that has broad support among voters in both parties in this Deeply conservative state.
Presley was lobbying Reeves before Tuesday night as the race went from likely to skinny Republican, according to the Cook’s Political Report. The election will take place on November 28 if neither candidate obtains a majority of votes.
Reeves, 49, is one of the least popular governors in the country, with an approval rating of 46 percent, according to a Morning Consult survey released last week. He is mired in a scandal over millions of state welfare dollars that were misused while he was lieutenant governor.
Presley, 46, has raised far more money than Reevesraising $11.3 million in contributions this year, compared to the Republican’s $6.3 million, according to state filings.
Presley focused his campaign on outreach to black voters, the backbone of the Mississippi Democratic Party. He has the support of U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, the state’s most powerful black politician.
Presley is a commissioner of the Mississippi Public Utilities Regulator and previously served as mayor of the small town of Nettleton. He is the cousin of music legend Elvis Presley.
Brandon Presley, Democratic candidate for governor of Mississippi, speaks to a group of business leaders during Hobnob 2023, sponsored by the Mississippi Economic Council, in Jackson, Mississippi, Thursday, October 26, 2023.
Rogelio V. Solis | P.A.
Presley’s campaign focused on expanding Medicaid to 220,000 Mississippians who currently do not qualify for the low-income health insurance program. Reeves opposed Medicaid expansion, repeatedly dismissing the program as “well-being“.
Presley also campaigned on solving the hospital crisis in rural Mississippi communities, arguing that Medicaid expansion would help revive the facilities’ sagging finances. More than 40% of Mississippi’s 73 rural hospitals are at risk of closing, according to a recent study. report.
Reeves proposed a repayment plan in September, which aims to increase hospital funding by $689 million.
Health care was a central issue for voters heading into the election. More than 90% of Mississippi voters said they were concerned about the hospital crisis and 72% said they supported Medicaid expansion, according to a report. Mississippi Today/Siena College Poll published in September.
Tuesday’s vote was the first since Mississippi changed the way it elected governor, abandoning a system that had its origins in the racist Jim Crow era.
In 2020, Mississippi voters abolished the old method that required a gubernatorial candidate to win a majority of the electoral votes from state legislative districts in addition to the statewide popular vote.
The old system was adopted during Mississippi’s infamous 1890 constitutional convention, which disenfranchised black voters, banned interracial marriage and segregated schools by race.
The governor is now elected by popular vote, with a second round if no candidate obtains a majority.