It doesn’t appear Presley is chomping at the bit to follow in fellow Democrat Jim Hood’s footsteps, but he is reading the tea leaves.
In 2019, Democrats hung their hopes of winning a statewide executive branch seat on former Attorney General Jim Hood, the only Democrat statewide official left at the time. Even with significant name ID cultivated over his four terms, the Democrat ran a lackluster campaign and drew 47% of the vote versus Tate Reeves in the Governor’s race. Hood ignored his base and spent millions on a tiny sliver of rural white voters who essentially rejected the pitch and made Hood the Mississippi Democratic Party’s sacrificial lamb for that election cycle.
Now, Democrats are looking to Northern District Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley as their next best hope of electoral success.
Presley is the lone Democrat most frequently mentioned as a possible candidate for higher office, namely Governor, if for no other reason than he and Central District Transportation Commissioner Willie Simmons are the only two Democrats currently in a state office. Presley is now the longest serving Democrat in state office and has, thus far, been able to win re-election in an ever-reddening area in North Mississippi.
Presley is certainly fundraising like he is considering a run for higher office in 2023. Thursday, August 25th at his cousin Elvis Presley’s birthplace in Tupelo is where it will start. Presley is seeking contributions between $250 and $10,000.
Headlining the event as chairmen donating $10,000 or more are two high profile businessmen – Jim Barksdale and Barry Wax. Barksdale, a Mississippi Today board member, has a history of giving to leading candidates in both parties, giving $25,000 to both Tate Reeves and Jim Hood’s campaigns in 2019. Wax, a Reeves’ campaign finance committee member in 2019, put $75,000 into the Reeves campaign during that cycle.
Jim Hood is also listed among the donors as a sponsor.
The question remains if this fundraiser is indeed a signal that Presley might be considering a run for Governor. There are signs that point to that being a “no.”
If Presley wins re-election to the PSC, he will be accumulating his high four years in office since the PSC Commissioners just received a pay raise thanks to the Legislature. This means real, personal financial decisions could come into play as he considers his next move.
Presley could opt to keep his political powder dry this cycle, seek re-election, and then run for an open gubernatorial seat in 2027, if that is indeed something he desires.
Presley, a shrewd politician, is surely not chomping at the bit to follow in Jim Hood’s footsteps merely to lay on the alter so the Democratic Party can have a candidate on the ballot for higher office next year.
In fact, Presley told Y’all Politics on Tuesday that after seeing what has happened in other states with Democrats in this current political environment, he is trying to prepare accordingly for his own re-election.
“As everyone in politics knows, campaigns for all offices are now extremely expensive and you can never take any election for granted. Heck, down in Louisiana one of my friends on the PSC spent $800,000 just to be re-elected to that job,” Presley said. “As Governor Haley Barbour used to say, ‘There are only two ways to run – unopposed or scared.’ I am deeply appreciative of all of those who are Democrats, Republicans and Independents who are helping me be prepared for 2023.”
But Presley’s party is desperate for a standard-bearer and likely cannot afford to simply cede a credible candidate for Governor at the risk of getting wiped out down the ballot as they did the last cycle. This fundraiser is galvanizing some core Democrat donors and maybe a few disaffected Republican donors, which is noteworthy.
Presley has worked across party lines at times during this tenure at the PSC and knows full well that a run for anything other than the seat he currently holds would be an uphill battle with a “D” behind his name on a 2023 ballot.
Should he choose to enter the fray for higher office, perhaps for Governor, he would be the odds-on favorite to win the Democratic nomination. But being his party’s nominee is a long way from winning statewide and Presley, it seems. understands that math.