Brandon Presley
Mississippi Democratic gubernatorial nominee Brandon Presley speaks to voters at a meet-and-greet campaign event for Black women, Friday, Oct. 6, 2023, in Jackson, Miss. (AP Photo/Michael Goldberg)

By Michael Goldberg
The Associated Press/Report for America

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi’s gubernatorial election could hinge on turnout among Black voters, who haven’t wielded political influence commensurate with their share of the state population, the Democratic nominee said Oct. 6.

At a campaign event in the 80 percent Black state capital of Jackson just over one month before Election Day, Brandon Presley said Black voters could help carry him to victory. He also accused incumbent Republican Gov. Tate Reeves, who is seeking reelection, of hoping they stay home.

“Black Mississippi and White Mississippi have been purposefully, strategically and with intent divided over racial lines. Intentionally divided for two things: Money and power,” Presley said. “Tate Reeves and that sleazy little crowd he runs around with are sitting over there today hoping that Black voters do not come vote in November.”

Speaking to a crowd at a blues club in Jackson’s Farish Street Historic District, Presley said the interests of Mississippi’s 40 percent Black population — the largest of any state by percentage — had been underserved during Reeves’ term. Roughly a quarter of Jackson residents live in poverty, and its tax base has eroded the past few decades amid mostly White flight to suburbs.

“This race for governor comes down to somebody that cares about the city of Jackson versus somebody who has shown you for 12 years that he could care less about the city of Jackson,” said Presley, who is White. “And whether Tate Reeves believes it or not, the Mississippi Delta is still in Mississippi.”

Before becoming governor in 2019, Reeves served two terms as lieutenant governor and two terms as state treasurer.

Reeves’ campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Reeves has said he helped restore service to Jackson during its 2022 water crisis. He has also touted tornado relief efforts and initiatives to shore up broadband access in the rural Mississippi Delta, another Democratic stronghold with a large Black population.

Promising an administration that “looks like Mississippi, racially and regionally,” Presley’s comments follow a legislative session in which Jackson was at the center of debates over infrastructure woes and crime. A state law that would have authorized some circuit court judges to be appointed rather than elected in Jackson, which critics said stomped on voting rights, was struck down by the Mississippi Supreme Court in September.

Reeves supported the law and said it would help protect residents from violent crime.

Speaking to reporters Oct. 6, Presley said he did not support the law because it allowed unelected judges.

Keshun Brown, a Jackson resident who said he is voting for Presley, pulled Presley aside during the Oct. 6 event. He insisted the candidate prioritize crime.

“I personally told him, make sure you address the crime in Jackson. Everything else was on point. I just told him, never leave that out for us Jacksonians,” Brown said.

Black voters and lawmakers in Mississippi are overwhelmingly Democratic, while Republicans command majority support among white voters and hold supermajorities in the state Legislature. Republicans also hold all statewide elected offices.

Rodney Hall, a recent aide to GOP U.S. Rep. Trent Kelly and a former Army veteran, faces no opponent for a legislative seat in northeast Mississippi. He is set to become the first Black Republican elected to the Legislature since Reconstruction.

Presley on Oct. 6 also repeated promises to expand Medicaid to help uninsured people and financially strapped hospitals. Five rural hospitals have closed since 2005, and 24 are at immediate risk of closing because of severe financial problems, according to the Center for Healthcare Quality & Payment Reform, a national policy organization.

Reeves opposes Medicaid expansion but recently unveiled a plan that he said will provide hospitals with a boost in federal money.

An independent candidate, Gwendolyn Gray, is on the ballot along with Reeves and Presley in the Nov. 7 general election.


Michael Goldberg is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. Follow him at @mikergoldberg.