JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi Republican Gov. Tate Reeves and Democratic challenger Brandon Presley were set to face off Wednesday night in their only debate to cap a hard-fought campaign, six days before the Nov. 7 general election.
The two men have proposed significantly different platforms for governing Mississippi, a deeply conservative state that has long been one of the poorest in the United States. Republicans have held the governor’s office for the past 20 years.
Presley advocates expanding Medicaid to people earning modest wages who don’t receive health insurance through their jobs. Reeves says he does not want to add hundreds of thousands of people to a program he calls “welfare.”
Reeves says Mississippi has enacted some of its biggest tax cuts while he’s been in office, and he’s pushing a full elimination of the state income tax. Presley says he wants to reduce the price of license plates and cut Mississippi’s 7% sales tax on groceries, the highest rate in the nation.
Presley has raised $11.3 million for his campaign this year, compared with Reeves’ $6.3 million, according to finance reports filed Tuesday. But Reeves started the year with more money. Presley has spent $10.8 million and still has $1.3 million, while Reeves has spent $11 million and still has $1.2 million.
Presley called on Reeves to take part in five debates, including one last month at a forum sponsored by the NAACP in Gulfport. But Reeves agreed to only one. It’s scheduled to take place at 7 p.m. CDT in the studio of WAPT-TV in Jackson and is being aired on that Jackson ABC affiliate and on Mississippi Public Broadcasting.
“I think we could have had a much more robust campaign on the issues out there, had the voters been able to see us five times between Oct. 1 and Election Day,” Presley said after the Hobnob event. “But it’s obvious the governor chickened out of doing those debates.”
Responding to questions during a September news conference, Reeves said: “I’m sure we’re going to have debates. We’ve always had debates.”
The Associated Press asked Reeves last week in Columbus about the discrepancy between what he said — multiple debates — and what he agreed to do.
“Y’all must be English teachers,” Reeves said with a laugh. “Look, this is what the two campaigns have agreed to. I’m looking forward to talking about the issues that are important to Mississippi.”
During the 2019 campaign for governor, Reeves had two debates with Democratic nominee Jim Hood. Reeves was wrapping up his second term as lieutenant governor after two terms as state treasurer, and Hood was finishing his fourth term as attorney general.
Presley is a second cousin of rock ’n’ roll icon Elvis Presley. He is a former Nettleton mayor and is in his fourth term as an elected member of the Mississippi Public Service Commission, which regulates utilities.
Emily Wagster Pettus, The Associated Press