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Republican Tate Reeves Defeats Democrat Brandon Presley for Governor: ‘Victory Sure Is Sweet’

Governor Tate Reeves speaking at his campaign party
Mississippi voters re-elected incumbent Republican Gov. Tate Reeves on Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2023. Reeves is seen here speaking to supporters after declaring victory over his Democratic opponent, Brandon Presley, at his watch party at the Sheraton in Flowood, Miss. Photo by Heather Harrison

FLOWOOD and JACKSON, Miss.—“Victory sure is sweet,” Republican Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves told a room of supporters at the Sheraton in Flowood, Miss., on Tuesday night as he declared victory over his Democratic opponent, Brandon Presley.

With 96% of ballots counted by noon Wednesday, the incumbent led his opponent 51.6%-47%, the Associated Press reported. Independent candidate Gwendolyn Gray, who asked supporters to vote for Presley in October, netted 1.4% of the vote. The margin is similar to Reeves’ 52.1%-46.6% defeat of Democrat Jim Hood in 2019.

The newly reelected governor reiterated his opposition to allowing young transgender students to play on school sports teams that align with their gender identities—a policy Presley agreed with him on—and warned the room that national Democrats want to change Mississippi.

“In our state, we believe family is everything, we believe work is a good thing, we believe that boys ought to play boys’ sports. I will tell you that the threat to all that we believe is real,” Reeves said with his wife and children by his side.

He said he plans to “get back on the road recruiting even more jobs for the great state of Mississippi” starting Thursday morning and would continue supporting education investments.

“I’m going to keep working to improve our schools, and I believe our kids will continue to do even better because, at the end of the day, we have the best schools in America, and we’re going to continue to fight for our teachers,” the governor said.

He did not mention his longtime support for giving public-education dollars to private schools through tuition vouchers, nor his support for expanding charter schools. While he prioritized those issues during his time as lieutenant governor from 2012 to 2020, he did not campaign on those topics this year.

Reeves Credits Trump’s Support

At his victory party, Gov. Reeves thanked ex-President Donald Trump for his support. The former White House occupant was in New York on Monday for his civil fraud trial but held a telephone rally with Reeves supporters that evening.

Trump, who faces 91 felony criminal charges across four jurisdictions, warned that electing Presley would be “a disaster.”

“It could be the end of the state, actually—just like it could be the end of the country,” the twice-impeached ex-president and 2024 candidate said.

Governor Tate Reeves speaking at his campaign party
During his victory speech on Nov. 7, 2023, Gov. Tate Reeves touted his record on education and job recruitment. Photo by Heather Harrison

On Tuesday night, Reeves said he looks forward to supporting Trump next year.

“I appreciate his support. He certainly helped turn out people throughout the state, and we look forward to working with him in 2024,” the Mississippi governor said.

Despite winning reelection, Reeves won fewer votes than any other statewide Republican on the ballot. The AP’s current count shows that the other seven statewide elected officials earned at least 48,000 more votes than Reeves, whose total stood at 407,521 with 96% of the vote counted; Presley had 371,016 votes as of noon’s count.

“I know that over these 20 years, I’ve made mistakes, but I will tell you that I have never stopped trying to earn your trust,” the governor said.

Presley: ‘We’ve Seen The Best of Mississippi’

A more somber tone filled the room about eight miles away at The Faulkner in nearby Jackson.

“This campaign’s been tough … but we’ve seen the best of Mississippi throughout this time,” Brandon Presley told supporters as his wife, Katelyn Presley, stood at his side with tears in her eyes. He told the diverse crowd that he was proud of the work his campaign did to bring people together in Mississippi across racial lines.

“Partisan politics that rip people apart is wrong,” Presley, the former mayor of Nettleton, Miss., said. The tightly contested race ended in a flurry of confusion and accusations of voter suppression as multiple polling precincts in Hind’s County, which includes the 83%-Black capital city of Jackson, ran out of ballots.

Brandon Presley speaking at a podium while his wife looks on
With wife Katelyn Mabus, right, at his side, Democrat Brandon Presley conceded the election for Mississippi governor while speaking to supporters at The Faulkner in Jackson, Miss., on Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2023. Photo by Shaunicy Muhammad

Throughout his campaign, Presley promised that if elected he would increase funding for public education, end Mississippi’s grocery sales tax, invest in historically Black colleges and universities like Jackson State University and prioritize economic development—especially for locally owned businesses in the state.

He has long advocated for expanding Medicaid for working Mississippians who do not make enough to afford commercial insurance or qualify for federal subsidies, noting that the state has given up a billion dollars a year by not doing so. Reeves opposes the policy.

“The time has come. It’s past time to (expand Medicaid),” the Democrat said at a debate with Reeves earlier this month. Health care in Mississippi has been at a crisis level in recent years, with many of the state’s hospitals facing financial challenges that have led to closures and reductions in service. On election night, Presley told supporters that “Medicaid will be expanded at some point, and you will have played a role in that.”

With a 61.3%-38.7% victory over his Democratic challenger, Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann won reelection by the widest margin of any Republican incumbent Tuesday night. He is one of the few state officials who has expressed support for expanding Medicaid.

The Democrat congratulated Reeves, saying he recognizes there is “good on the other side,” but that the loss didn’t mean his journey had come to an end.

“Tonight’s a setback, but we’re not going to lose hope,” he said, growing emotional as he thanked voters, volunteers and campaign staff.

‘I’m Very Disappointed’

Supporters of Brandon Presley said they believe he would have unified the state if he had won.

“I’m very disappointed. I’ve never seen a campaign run so well. I’m so proud of Brandon Presley, but I’m just sad,” former Kent State University music professor Linda Bryant-Angotti told the Mississippi Free Press after Presley’s concession. She grew up in Jackson and moved back to Mississippi in 2019.

Linda Bryant-Angotti seated at a campaign party
“I’m very disappointed. I’ve never seen a campaign run so well,” Brandon Presley supporter Linda Bryant-Angotti, a former Kent State University music professor, told the Mississippi Free Press at the candidate’s election-night watch party on Nov. 7, 2023. Photo by Shaunicy Muhammad

Betty Ware, a Nettleton native, attended the Democratic candidate’s watch party with her 23-year-old grandson T.J. She expressed confusion over why more Mississippians didn’t support Presley.

“Brandon worked so hard. He did so much for that small town (of Nettleton). I would’ve loved to have seen what he could have done for the state,” Ware told the Mississippi Free Press. “Even though he lost the race last night, what I saw is that he still had that passion and drive for the state of Mississippi, whether he’s the leader or someone else is.”

At his victory party in Flowood, Reeves promised to “do everything in my power to rally our fellow Mississippians.”

“You see, Elee and I were born here; we were raised here; we stayed here,” he said. “From the time that we got married in November of 2001, our goal was to plant our family here where our roots were and to do all we could to make Mississippi an even better place. I think it’s fair to say we’ve made a difference.”

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