Brandon Presley is gaining rare traction for a Democrat in deeply red Mississippi, where embattled Republican Gov. Tate Reeves is fighting to stay in power
Brandon Presley is making inroads in Mississippi's gubernatorial race, despite running as a Democrat in a state that's voted red for the past 20 years. A recent poll shows the 46-year-old Democrat just one point behind his Republican rival, incumbent Gov. Tate Reeves, with the election slated for Tuesday.
Presley, who is a second cousin of legendary musician Elvis Presley, had a modest upbringing and stands out more for his legacy in local politics than his relation to the King of Rock and Roll.
When Presley was a teenager, he managed his uncle Harold Ray Presley's successful sheriff campaign in Lee County. Presley viewed Harold as something of a father figure, as his own dad was murdered when he was in third grade. In July 2001, Harold was killed in the line of duty, and another of Presley's uncles filled the vacant seat.
The same month that Harold died, Presley was sworn into his first public service role, becoming the 23-year-old mayor of Nettleton, Mississippi — and the youngest-ever mayor elected in the state. Now an elected public utilities commissioner, Presley recently married Katelyn Mabus, a cousin of former Mississippi Gov. Ray Mabus.
With multiple claims to fame in the Magnolia State, the self-described "populist, FDR-Billy McCoy Democrat" was well positioned to announce a sleeper gubernatorial campaign in January.
In a video announcing his campaign — which has seized on Gov. Reeves' low approval ratings and a long-running welfare scandal in the state — Presley said he was running "because I know Mississippi can do better."
“We’ve got a state filled with good people but horrible politicians — and that includes our governor. Tate Reeves is a man with zero conviction and maximum corruption," Presley said. "He looks out for himself and his rich friends instead of the people that put him into office. And he’s been caught in the middle of the largest public corruption scandal in state history.”
Over the past several months, Presley's political stardom has risen considerably — particularly notable in Mississippi, which has not voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since Jimmy Carter in 1976, and has not elected a Democratic governor since 1999.
The New York Times reports that Presley has far out-raised Reeves, bringing in more than $11 million in 2023.
Presley has worked hard to cast himself as a more moderate Democrat, one who wants to expand Medicaid while also supporting Mississippi's sweeping abortion ban. For his part, Presley has said the gubernatorial race has less to do with politics and is instead a race pitting political insiders against outsiders.
Speaking to a crowd of supporters at a recent campaign rally, Presley said: “The fight in politics in Mississippi is not right versus left. And sometimes, it’s not even Democrat versus Republican. It’s those of us on the outside versus those of them on the inside.”
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Cook Political Report recently relabeled the Mississippi race from "likely Republican" to "leaning Republican," with its analysts noting that Reeves "still has the edge," but that "it's morphed into a competitive fight with added intrigue."
If neither candidate receives at least 50% of the vote on Tuesday, the race will advance to a runoff election on Nov. 28.
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