Donald Trump was Tate Reeves’ silver bullet in 2019 governor’s race. Not this year.

by Adam Ganucheau 

Mississippi Today

Just five nights before the 2019 governor’s election, about 10,000 Republicans packed into the BancorpSouth Arena in Tupelo to hear a rambunctious President Donald Trump plead with Mississippians to vote for Tate Reeves.

It was borderline baffling that an immensely popular Republican president had to fly down to a strong Republican state in the eleventh hour and campaign for a well-known Republican candidate. But Reeves was struggling to reach the 50% mark in polling against longtime Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood, and Democrats smelled blood in the water.

“Wait a minute, how is this guy … I can’t believe this is a competitive race,” Trump acknowledged from the podium that night. “I’m talking to Mississippi, I can’t believe it. I don’t think (Hood) is going to be the right guy. I think the right guy is Tate Reeves. He will be a great governor.”

More than a few prognosticators still believe that rowdy, high-energy Trump rally won Reeves the 2019 race. Advisers close to Hood said they had internal polls going into the last two weeks of the election that actually had the Democrat leading Reeves. But on Election Day five days after Trump’s Tupelo visit, Reeves won with 51.9% of the vote.

Four years later, much is the same. Reeves is again favored at the top of the ticket for governor. But yet again, he’s struggling to reach the 50% mark in polling against another tough Democratic challenger, this time longtime Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley.

But not all is the same this year. Trump, of course, is not the president. Instead of jetting off to political rallies to boost Republican allies across the country, the former president is tied up in numerous legal proceedings at both the state and federal levels. Late this week, two of his closest allies accepted plea deals and appeared to turn on him in those deliberations. And a judge slapped him with a $5,000 fine on Friday for violating a gag order in his New York fraud case.

Trump, who clearly has other things on his mind than Reeves’ chances in November, has not weighed in yet on the 2023 Mississippi governor’s race, and it’s not clear if he will. It’s also not clear if it would mean nearly as much to Mississippi voters if he did.

A Mississippi Today/Siena College poll conducted in September showed an even favorable/unfavorable split among Mississippi voters on Trump — a much more negative overall view of the former president than in previous years’ polling.

With Republican operatives buzzing about GOP enthusiasm and turnout concerns, Reeves likability concerns, and a Democratic campaign that is making some strides, is another Trump visit on the horizon?

And if not, is there another silver bullet Reeves can load into his chamber?

What We're Watching

1) Presley announced a statewide bus tour to close out his 2023 campaign. The campaign said the tour will make 55 stops across the state in the final weeks of the election.

2) Reeves spent his Friday in southwest Mississippi, visiting McComb, Liberty and Woodville. Interestingly, Amite and Wilkinson counties — home to about 21,000 people between the two — got visits from both Reeves and Presley this week. Presley visited the counties Thursday to officially fulfill a promise to visit all 82 counties this year.

3) It's linked in the headlines above, but Mississippi Today's Geoff Pender settled any questions or debate today about how many gubernatorial debates there will be. Pender reports: "It appears (Nov. 1) will be the only gubernatorial debate, not the first. It also would appear Reeves agreed to the single debate just days before the election to defang Presley’s claim — and campaign fodder — that he was dodging and 'hiding' from the voting public, not because of Reeves’ strong desire to debate."

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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