Could Democrats flip Mississippi?

It’s an intriguing possibility.

They have a great candidate, with unbeatable name recognition, and Republicans are mired in a welfare corruption scandal.

Brandon Presley (who’s related to Elvis), “knows who to connect with voters, … listen to voters,” a strategist says. He’s repeatedly won “in some of the reddest parts of the state” (see story here).

Presley (bio here, photo at left) was a mayor, and currently serves as a public service commissioner who regulates utility companies and rates.

Mississippi has been a near-impossible nut to crack for Democrats, even though it’s been mired in poverty under GOP governance, and has the nation’s worst public schools. Five years ago, Presley passed on running for the U.S. Senate (see story here).

Racial divisions are stark there; two-thirds of his party’s voters are black, and Presley is white, but has worked hard to earn their trust (see story here). He has pushed for, among other things, bettre internet access in rural parts of the state, which would give those residents improved access to drug treatment and other health care services.

The welfare scandal (details here) involved the diversion of nearly $100 million of federal welfare funds in a state with America’s worst poverty and lowest welfare payments. Some of that money went to build sports facilities, for example a volleyball facility at a college attended by retired NFL star Brett Favre’s daughter, who was a volleyball player there. Favre himself received $2 million in speaking fees for appearances he never made; under the glare of publicity, he eventually surrendered those funds, but is resisting state efforts to collect interest.

Mississippi is under one-party rule, with the GOP holding every statewide office and supermajorities in both legislative houses. That’s been the case for two decades now, yet Republicans have done little to improve things there. And the welfare scandal illustrates what can happen when politicians don’t face serious competition and come to believe they’re untouchable.

Overthrowing that regime at the ballot box isn’t a silver bullet that will solve Mississippi’s problems overnight. Perhaps the state is a basket case that will never recover from its bad reputation and turbulent past. But Presley, through experience, knows the nuts and bolts of issues like drinking water quality and internet access (which is increasingly important in educating students).

As governor, he could perhaps spearhead incremental improvements in the badly-lagging quality of life there. At the very least, he’s a straight shooter who isn’t corrupt and won’t divert taxpayer money from crying needs to private pockets, as his Republican predecessors have done.

But it’s not a slam-dunk that he can be elected governor. Not by a longshot. Whites, who make up just over half the state’s population but have gerrymandered the state’s sizeable minority population into political non-significance, are overwhelmingly conservative and may like things just as they are.

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