TUPELO • With President Donald Trump coming to Tupelo on Nov. 1 to campaign for Republican Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves ahead of the state’s election for governor, political analysts and elected officials have mixed views on the implications of Trump’s visit.
Republicans hope that Trump’s decision to host the rally in Northeast Mississippi will be a deciding factor in the race. Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood is from the region and has long been able to amass crossover votes in his corner of the state.
He likely needs continued and widespread support from typically Republican voters in Northeast Mississippi to win the governor’s post.
J. Miles Coleman, the associate editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia Center for Politics, thinks the decision to rally in Tupelo is rooted in the fact that the area is a majority white and was ancestrally Democratic, but is becoming more conservative.
Coleman, a native of New Orleans, has been watching the gubernatorial elections in Louisiana, Mississippi and Kentucky this year. He believes there are some comparisons between the races in Louisiana and Mississippi.
Since former President Barack Obama left office, voter turnout among minority communities has been low and this has hurt Democrat candidates in Southern races, Coleman said.
“Hood has been elected attorney general four times, and I think in 2015 in (Northeast Mississippi), he lost Tishomingo and Lee County,” Coleman said. “So, basically what I think is, Trump picked that area because it’s pretty white by state standards.”
Coleman said a comparison could be made between Trump’s rally in Lake Charles, Louisiana to endorse Republican candidates there and his rally in Tupelo.
“Lake Charles is fairly white, so that’s a reason Trump felt like he could squeeze a good bit of support from there,” Coleman said.
Coleman said turnout spiked in the Lake Charles area in Louisiana for the first statewide election there, and he thinks Reeves in Mississippi could benefit from a similar bump.
“I would not be surprised if it helps Reeves some,” Coleman said. “It’s hard to compare, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it helps.”
Julie Wronski, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Mississippi said the real question in the race is which campaign can turn out more voters.
Wronski cited a Mason Dixon Strategies poll published earlier this month that puts Reeves slightly ahead in the race with 46% of the vote and Hood with 43% of the vote. The poll also claims there are approximately 10% of Mississippians who are undecided about the race. Wronski said identifying who those 10% are is crucial to the race.
“Are they Waller voters, are they African-Americans, are they college students, or are they people who normally don’t vote? That’s sort of the question,” Wronksi said. “Are we talking about persuasion game or an undecided game?”
A different poll recently cited by the Hood camp shows Hood hold a lead of 46 percent to 42 percent over Reeves.
Wronski said Trump coming to the state may not be definitive for the race. She also noted Mississippi’s strict voter registration laws, and said “get out the vote” efforts will be key for both campaigns.
“I feel like that’s what’s going to be competitive. Not Trump turning people into a frenzy,” she said.
She added that if voters think the race is competitive, they are more inclined to go to the polls and vote.
Northeast Mississippi currently has officials from both political parties representing the area in the state legislature, but voters have started to elect more Republican officials. In March, state Rep. Nick Bain switched from the Democratic party to the Republican party, indicating that Northeast Mississippi remains in a political transition.
State Sen. Rita Parks, a republican from Alcorn County, told the Daily Journal she wasn’t surprised Trump chose to come to Northeast Mississippi considering he appeared in Tupelo last year.
Parks called the presidential visit an honor for the area, but didn’t think he was coming to convert any voters because many in the region have already switched from Democratic voters to Republican voters.
“I think it is a positive for voter turnout and a reminder as we think of places throughout our state and this election cycle,” Parks said. “This is an opportunity to energize.”
Longtime state Rep. Steve Holland, an independent and former Democrat from Lee County, was initially surprised by Trump’s visit to the area.
“The Trumpster is the leader of all Republicans,” Holland said. “I’m a little surprised he got involved in the governor’s race, but I guess it means a lot to him to have a Republican in office. I have no objection of him coming to town, but I’m not a Tate Reeves fan.”
Holland said he thinks a lot of people have “made their mind up” about the gubernatorial election and the issues have been discussed at length, but said it’s ultimately up to the voters to decide if Trump influences their decision to vote for Reeves or Hood.
Holland did not attend the Trump rally in Tupelo last year and said he doesn’t know if he will make it to the rally this year. Holland, a local funeral home owner, said he “dropped a gravestone” on his foot and doesn’t know if he can physically make it.
Trump’s presence will excite Republican voters, but Holland isn’t sure if those who haven’t made up their mind will be influenced by the president.
“I think it’s going to reinvigorate the (Republican) base,” Holland said. “I don’t know what it’s going to do to the undecideds. You certainly have a lot of people in Mississippi who think Donald Trump is to the right of God the Father, but I’m not one of them.”