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RATINGS CHANGE: Cook Political Report Moves MS-GOV Toward Brandon Presley as Republicans Are “Beginning to Worry”

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RATINGS CHANGE: Cook Political Report Moves MS-GOV Toward Brandon Presley as Republicans Are “Beginning to Worry” 

New polling and a race-rating in the wrong direction spell bad news for Reeves’ reelect

With only two weeks until Election Day in Mississippi, Cook Political Report has shifted its rating for the Mississippi governor’s race in Brandon Presley’s favor, from Likely Republican to Lean Republican. The shift comes on the same day that new polling shows the race in a dead heat, with Gov. Tate Reeves’ approval rating underwater and 68 percent of undecided voters holding a negative view of the governor.

Cook’s analysis cites Brandon Presley’s “disciplined” campaign, his electoral success in conservative Northern Mississippi, and “palpable worry among Mississippi Republicans… about enthusiasm among GOP voters.”

While Reeves has faced extensive scrutiny for his central role in the state’s largest welfare scandal, taking personal and political trips on the state plane, and refusing to expand Medicaid amid the state’s worsening hospital closure crisis, Presley has spent his time visiting every county in the state, promising to deliver on issues that matter to voters such as cutting the car tag and grocery taxes, as well as expanding Medicaid and immediately addressing hospital closures.

Read more here about how Brandon Presley has made MS-GOV “into a competitive fight with added intrigue heading into Election Day”:

  • Among the trio of this year’s off-year gubernatorial contests, Mississippi has emerged as the most surprising race.
  • For a Democrat, Presley has the type of profile that can be appealing even in the Deep South.
  • As one of the state’s public service commissioners, a role he was elected to in 2007 and subsequently reelected to three times, he has won over traditionally Republican areas in the swath of Northern Mississippi that he represents.
  • Nonetheless, he’s made the focus of his campaign fiscal issues, from cutting the state’s grocery and car taxes — in one ad, he literally saws a car in half — to expanding Medicare and keeping open rural hospitals.
  • Corruption has also been the central tenet of Presley’s prosecution against Reeves. In the economically strapped state, there’s been a sprawling welfare corruption scandal involving Mississippi native and former NFL great Brett Favre allegedly urging Reeves’s predecessor, Gov. Phil Bryant, to help divert welfare funds to finance a new volleyball facility at the University of Southern Mississippi, Favre’s almamater and where his daughter was on the team.
  • Presley has also hit him on upgrades to the governor’s mansion, including lemon trees and a meditation garden.
  • But there have been some signs of weakness with Reeves among Republicans. Initially this cycle, it looked like he might draw a serious primary challenge. Major candidates ultimately passed, but in a GOP primary against two underfunded and unknown challengers, Reeves only got 75% of the vote. That attrition has some conservatives on the ground worried.
  • “I think Brandon has run a good race, while Reeves is soft with some Republicans, particularly moderates,” one plugged-in Mississippi GOP consultant told us. “[Presley has] done everything you can do, he’s been very disciplined and he’s done a very good job staying on message. It’s like he wakes up in the middle of the night and says ‘grocery tax cut, expand Medicare and corruption.’”
  • “My concern is that Brandon Presley has had a lot of cash come his way and he’s spent aggressively on TV,” another veteran Mississippi Republican strategist told us. “To me the risk for Tate is his side tends to think he’s fine, but Tate’s likability is an issue, and I think that can affect turnout. I think the combination of that and Presley having more money makes an eight-point race closer potentially.”
  • What this could come down to is turnout and the ground game. There is palpable worry among Mississippi Republicans we talked to about enthusiasm among GOP voters.
  • “My message to Republicans would be, Brandon Presley’s got a big wad of cash and there’s great risk of us having low turnout,” one of the Magnolia State GOP strategists told us. “If [Presley] spends his cash wisely on turning out the Democratic vote, this thing could be really really close.”
  • Ultimately, this race has clearly become competitive, from the money that Presley has to the way Republicans are responding and beginning to worry. While Presley still has a major hurdle to overcome in such a red state, we are shifting our rating in this contest from Likely to Lean Republican.