In a surprising twist of the traditionally red state of Mississippi, Brandon Presley, the Democratic nominee for governor, finds himself in a neck-and-neck race with the scandal-plagued Republican incumbent, Gov. Tate Reeves, just days before the election. This highly anticipated contest has gained attention as it serves as a litmus test for Democrats’ ability to mobilize Black voters, particularly young Black voters, a critical demographic that they need to win future elections.
Black voters make up a significant 38% of eligible voters in Mississippi, a larger share than any other state. To secure victory, Presley must achieve high turnout among Black voters, aiming for them to constitute 34% of the electorate, similar to the turnout in 2008 when Barack Obama was elected president. The effectiveness of this strategy lies in whether Black voters believe that Democrats genuinely represent their concerns and that their votes hold substantial weight.
While the Democratic Party secured more wins in the 2022 midterm elections than anticipated, James Carville, a prominent Democratic strategist, expressed his deep concern about the underwhelming Black turnout in that election year. As the focus turns towards the 2024 presidential election and President Biden’s potential re-election, Carville emphasizes the urgency of addressing this issue.
The Mississippi gubernatorial race, where no Democrat has been elected governor for 24 years, underscores the Democratic Party’s challenge of convincing Black voters that their concerns and voices matter. Brandon Presley, a conservative Democrat from Nettleton, shares his compelling personal story of growing up in poverty, dealing with family tragedy, and his transformation into a public servant. His approach resonates with the impoverished communities in Mississippi, where he advocates for healthcare and education improvements, in contrast to his opponent’s emphasis on culture war issues.
Governor Tate Reeves has been criticized for neglecting pressing problems facing Mississippi, such as high levels of poverty, child poverty, and maternal health issues. He remains steadfast in his opposition to Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act, a policy that could significantly improve access to healthcare for many Mississippians. Instead, he focuses on culture war issues, like the ban on trans athletes in sports.
The Cook Political Report shifted its assessment of the Mississippi gubernatorial race from “solid Republican” to “lean Republican,” signaling the significant inroads Presley has made. He has received support from prominent figures like Bennie Thompson, former chair of the House Jan. 6 committee, and Mississippi native Morgan Freeman.
While Presley’s campaign has successfully raised funds and garnered support, he faces the critical challenge of encouraging Black voters to turn out at the polls, countering Republican hopes that they won’t participate in the November election. The Mississippi race highlights a broader concern for the Democratic Party’s ability to mobilize Black voters effectively, a challenge they need to overcome for future elections, particularly the 2024 presidential race.
As Democrats look ahead to the 2024 presidential election, addressing Black voter turnout is crucial. The Mississippi race serves as a microcosm of the larger strategy and engagement needed to secure the Democratic base and emerge victorious in critical elections.