Mississippi Elections Chief Michael Watson Running For Re-Election, Not Governor

Mississippi Secretary of State Michael Watson
Mississippi Secretary of State Michael Watson filed to run for re-election on Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2023, with his wife, Lauren Watson, by his side at the Mississippi Republican Party headquarters. Watson said he believes “Mississippi would be more prosperous with better leadership at the top,” but that he decided to run for a second term as the state’s elections chief instead of running for governor. Photo courtesy Michael Watson campaign

Mississippi Secretary of State Michael Watson will run for a second term as the the state’s top elections official, he announced through a campaign statement on Wednesday, ending speculation that he could challenge incumbent Gov. Tate Reeves in a Republican primary.

In his statement, he sharply criticized Mississippi’s top elected officials.

“While I believe Mississippi would be more prosperous with better leadership at the top, leadership that fostered teamwork as opposed to micromanagement, leadership that cared more for Mississippi than politics, I’m not at peace leaving the work we’ve started here at the Secretary of State’s office because there’s a lot more to be done,” Watson said.

Reeves filed for re-election earlier this month. Mississippi Public Service Commissioner for the Northern District Brandon Presley did announce a challenge to Reeves as a Democrat earlier this month.

Watson previously served three terms as a state senator representing Jackson County in Mississippi Senate District 51. The Republican elections chief first won election to the secretary of state’s office in 2019 after defeating Democrat Johnny DuPree.

After taking office in January 2020, he pushed for legislation to make it easier to remove inactive voters from voter rolls, to implement a citizenship check for people when they register to vote and to ease regulations on businesses. Watson drew criticism and made national headlines in 2021 after he warned against automatically registering “woke” and “uninformed” college students to vote; he later said he regretted his word choice.

“From strengthening the integrity of our elections process, continuing our Tackle The Tape initiative to cut the regulatory burden on businesses, implementing Mississippi Businesses Against Trafficking and our work with Tidelands, 16th Section lands, and the Conservation Task Force, our team has done a wonderful job of making Mississippi even better over the last three years,” Watson said in Wednesday’s statement.

“I’m excited to ask Mississippians for four more years as your Secretary of State. I look forward to traveling our beloved state visiting with you and earning your support for another term as your Secretary of State.”

No Republicans have announced a challenge to Watson for secretary of state. Earlier this month, though, Democrat Shuwaski Young announced a campaign for secretary of state.

“Mississippi does not have to be known as a voter-suppression state,” he said at the announcement, vowing to make voting easier if elected. Young previously ran for Congress in Mississippi’s 3rd Congressional District in 2022, but lost to incumbent Republican Michael Guest. In addition to serving as Mississippi’s elections chief, the secretary of state also oversees business registrations and state charities.

Candidates have until Feb. 1 to qualify for this year’s elections, including for statewide office, legislative offices, district-level offices and county offices. Primary elections for all of Mississippi’s legislative and statewide offices, including secretary of state, are on Aug. 8, 2023. The general election will follow on Nov. 7, 2023.

Can you support the Mississippi Free Press?

The Mississippi Free Press is a nonprofit, nonpartisan 501(c)(3) focused on telling stories that center all Mississippians.

With your gift, we can do even more important stories like this one.