Why does Brandon Pressley think he can pull off an upset victory in the Mississippi governor’s race?


Jackson, Mississippi — Third-generation pit manager Brian Jackson knows a few things for sure.

He knows how to perfectly smoke bone-in ribs, the state-famous kind, slathered in his grandmother’s special sauce. And he knows he’s all in on Democrat Brandon Pressley’s weak attempt to unseat incumbent Republican Gov. Tate Reeves on Tuesday.

But Jackson, who runs the popular black-owned restaurant Leatha’s in the ultra-conservative Petal neighborhood, knows this too: His support alone won’t do the trick.

“In Mississippi, black voters, we stick together,” Jackson told ABC News. He tends to cater to a white clientele, most of whom he assumes are conservatives, who tend to “say negative things about Tate Reeves…but are you watching their vote? They’ll stick together.”

In Jackson’s view, this puts the onus on his community to achieve a clear victory on what could, perhaps, just be a dramatic election night.

“Without the support of the lions? I don’t think he can do it.” [win]Jackson said of Presley.

Nearly 40% of Mississippi’s population is black — the largest percentage of any state — which is one of many reasons, Pressley told ABC News in an interview, because he has poured significant resources since last spring into black voter engagement and turnout, such as a campaign in Homecoming for Jackson State University, a historically black university.

Presley claims that Reeves has abandoned the state’s black population, although Reeves, for his part, has promoted his work with some black community leaders.

By reaching out strongly to black voters, Pressley is changing the rules of the Democratic game in a state that remains deeply conservative. Four years ago, then-Attorney General Jim Hood lost to Reeves by about 45,000 votes in a campaign seen as courting white moderates.

“A lot of Democratic politicians across the country expect black voters to vote for them because they’re Democrats, and I wanted to gain the support of black voters by not only talking about issues that black voters care about — [but] “They also show up in their communities,” Presley said.

But Cathy McNair, a longtime leader of a local federation of Democratic Women, said she has deep concerns that enthusiasm around Pressley by black voters could wane, sensing a lack of urgency for the voters she addresses to actually get to the polls in the election. day.

Photo: Mississippi Democratic gubernatorial candidate Brandon Pressley greets supporters during a campaign event, Nov. 6, 2023, in Jackson, Miss.

Mississippi Democratic gubernatorial candidate Brandon Pressley greets supporters during a campaign event, on November 6, 2023, in Jackson, Miss.

Brandon Bell/Getty Images

“There is a complacency of desperation” from her Black peers, said McNair, who is also Black. “I don’t think we’ve effectively made the argument that voting for Brandon…'”

538 Average polling is shown Reeves leads Presley, but not always by a large margin. McNair said she thinks Pressley “has a chance, but we feel the same way about Mike Ipsi,” a Black Democrat, former congressman and former agriculture secretary who twice tried and failed to become a U.S. senator from Mississippi.

A Pressley win would be an upset: No Democrat has led the state in nearly two decades, and former President Donald Trump single-handedly won Mississippi in 2016 and 2020. There is also a possibility that neither candidate will receive 50% of the votes on Tuesday, which could force a second presidential election. Out elections in late November.

National Democrats are eager to be competitive in the state, just look at their spending. The Democratic Governors Association has invested more than $5 million in the race, and party officials say they believe Pressley has a real chance, perhaps because he is an atypical Democrat.

While Pressley’s embrace of black voters sets him apart from Hood, he is following in Hood’s footsteps in another way and hoping to succeed where Hood could not: The former mayor of the small town of Nettleton and a member of the state Public Service Commission has sought to distinguish himself from national figures like President Joe Biden and prominent progressives. At the party.

Instead, Pressley ran as a populist candidate, evoking glimpses of former President Trump when he criticized foreign spending, corruption and groupthink in Mississippi as well as in Washington.

“If I am elected governor, no one from the president of the United States, nor from either political party, will tell me what to do,” Pressley said at a rally in Hattiesburg on Thursday.

“Unlike [Reeves]”I can’t be bought,” he said, just one example of how Pressley has tried to tie Reeves to corruption allegations including the state government’s welfare spending scandal that emerged under the administration of his predecessor, Phil Bryant, when Reeves was lieutenant governor. .

Reeves’ team dismissed the vaccines as “irrational.”

Reeves also sought to link Pressley to Biden, a deeply unpopular figure in conservative parts of the country, and figures such as Georgia’s Stacey Abrams, California Gov. Gavin Newsom, and Mississippi Rep. Bennie Thompson — whom Reeves described as “left-wing extremists.” “

Trump also waded in, saying in one video: “Joe Biden wants to appoint his nominee, and this is his nominee, Brandon Pressley, for governor of Mississippi. They own him.” [Presley] They will do what they want him to do.”

Presley downplayed the importance of any connection other than the joint party.

Photo: Mississippi Democratic gubernatorial candidate Brandon Pressley speaks to reporters, November 6, 2023, in Jackson, Miss.

Mississippi Democratic gubernatorial candidate Brandon Pressley speaks to reporters, November 6, 2023, in Jackson, Miss.

Rogelio V. Solis/AP

“This race is squarely about Mississippi, not about national issues — and quite frankly, I don’t need support,” he said when asked if he wanted to support Biden on the ground. “I can handle this race myself. I’m as disappointed in as many things in the Biden administration as the next person.”

Unlike many Democrats — with the exception of candidates like Hood and others in the South — Pressley supports significant restrictions on abortion. He supports the state’s current ban on all abortions except in cases of rape, incest and the life of the mother.

Pressley said he is “pro-life from the womb to the tomb. And I think we should also care about those seniors out there today who can’t afford medication — can’t get to a doctor.”

This is a smooth transition to an issue at the heart of his campaign, and on which he is closely aligned with other Democrats: expanding health care in the nation’s poorest state.

He has consistently hit out at Reeves’ objection to expanding Medicaid coverage, a move that could significantly boost resources for the working poor and keep hospitals solvent. For his part, Reeves called this unacceptable growth for the state’s welfare and offered his own plan to increase hospital funding through taxes.

“At the end of the day, what we decided is that it doesn’t make sense for the people of Mississippi,” Reeves said in his debate with Pressley.

But Pressley’s support for Medicaid is convincing at least some voters across the aisle.

“I don’t want to drive two hours to Memphis so someone can work for me,” Chip Wood, a Republican alderman and former Reeves voter, told ABC News. “I want health care to be available here.” To support Pressley, Wood created “Let’s Go Brandon” posters, a satirical reference to how conservatives mock Biden.

Pressley enjoys cross-party support and said he believes members of the Republican Party are his “strongest supporters.”

His views on abortion also seem to make it more acceptable.

“If he was pro-choice, that would certainly write him off completely to a lot of people, myself included,” Wood said.

Will it be enough to muster the votes to do what no other statewide Democrat in Mississippi has done in decades?

If nothing else, Presley has his last name: Yes, he’s second cousins ​​to rock ‘n’ roll legend Elvis Presley — a fact he’s not ashamed of bringing up.

“I sure don’t think it hurts me,” Presley said of the relationship. He added, “He is widely loved in Mississippi among black Mississippians and white Mississippians…and I can tell you now: If he were alive today, he would vote for me.”

This article originally appeared on abcnews.go.com

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