Brandon Presley, Elvis Presley’s great-nephew, could be the first Democrat elected governor of Mississippi this century when voters in the Magnolia State go to the polls on Tuesday.
Presley, 46, is gaining popularity thanks to his famous last name and tragic-to-triumphant backstory.
He has surpassed his rival, incumbent Republican Governor Tate Reeves, and by the end of October he had the Cook Political Report in motion the likely Republican-leaning race, in a state that voted for former President Donald Trump over President Joe Biden by more than 16 points in 2020.
Presley also has help from bestselling author John Grisham, a former Mississippi state lawmaker who has set many of his books in the state.
The Democratic hopeful was born into poverty just three weeks before Elvis died in 1977.
Mississippi Democratic governor hopeful Brandon Presley holds up a photo of his second cousin, Elvis Presley, in a video announcing his campaign. If the polls are correct, he is within striking distance of defeating Republican Governor Tate Reeves
Democrat Brandon Presley’s grandfather was the brother of Elvis’ grandfather, making them second cousins
He grew up (and still lives in his childhood home) in the town of Nettleton, Mississippi.
“My cousin grew up down the road in Tupelo. You’ve probably heard of him,” Presley said in his announcement video, holding up a photo of The King.
The candidate’s grandfather, Noah, was the brother of Elvis’ grandfather Jesse.
The family tragedy continued during Presley’s childhood, when his alcoholic father was murdered on the first day of third grade and his uncle, Sheriff Harold Ray Presley, was killed in the line of duty.
His mother raised him and often had trouble paying the bills.
“Growing up here, we could see through the floor, straight down into the mud,” Presley said in his introductory video. “She was our rock and never made us feel as poor as we really were.”
After college, Presley returned to Nettleton and ran for mayor. He won the race and, at age 23, became the youngest mayor in the state’s history.
Brandon Presley (left) was born three weeks before Elvis’ death in 1977. In the third grade, his alcoholic father was murdered and later his uncle, a sheriff, was killed in the line of duty.
A photo of Brandon Presley as a baby, held by his father, who was murdered the day he entered third grade
Presley is captured last month while campaigning for governor in Natchez, Mississippi. The Cook Political Report has moved the race from likely Republican to leaning
He then served as Public Service Commissioner for the Northern District of the Mississippi Public Service Commission, where he first appeared on the ballot in 2007 and last won re-election in 2019.
“I know it’s crazy to think about, but I had gone from a kid who grew up so poor that the power was turned off to the watchdog responsible for regulating those same energy companies that my mother couldn’t afford. he said in his campaign launch video.
Among his victories, Presley touted bringing “high-speed internet all the way here.”
In his campaign against Reeves, Presley has played up his working-class roots.
During his only debate against the governor, Presley said his mother was “someone Tate Reeves would say is a welfare person.”
“I’m not going to react coldly to single-parent families who sometimes find themselves in this situation,” Presley said. ‘I believe that everyone I meet is a child of God, someone for whom Jesus went to the cross to die. And I believe we should treat them with dignity and respect.”
Presley has also played up his Christian religion and is more conservative than most Democrats on issues like abortion and guns.
A photo of a young Brandon Presley. The Democrat lost his father on the first day of third grade. His alcoholic father was murdered and his mother had to raise him and his siblings
A photo of Brandon Presley (right) and his mother, who he said sometimes struggled to pay the bills and then had their power turned off
A close-up of Brandon Presley’s photo of his second cousin Elvis, who died three weeks after Brandon’s birth in 1977
He has also crossed party lines in the past, for example by voicing his support for the re-election of Republican President George W. Bush in 2004, during Presley’s tenure as mayor of Nettleton.
Reeves is not a popular governor in Mississippi and has been dragged down by a welfare scandal and, more recently, a spending scandal.
Although Reeves has denied wrongdoing, he has been embroiled in a $77 million welfare scandal involving retired NFL quarterback Brett Favre.
While Reeves served as lieutenant governor, Republican Governor Phil Bryant advised the former Green Bay Packers player on how to obtain more than $1 million in state funding to build a volleyball arena at the University of Southern Mississippi, both Favre and the his daughter’s alma mater.
Reports indicate that Favre also spoke to Reeves about the funds in the early weeks of 2020, when he first became governor.
Presley campaigned heavily against the scandal.
“Under Tate Reeves, millions were diverted from education and employment programs to help his wealthy friends,” said one of Presley’s campaign ads. “A horse track, a volleyball stadium, even $1 million to his own personal trainer. And when the investigator got too close, Tate Reeves fired him.”
Brandon Presley (left) debates Republican Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves (right). Presley has attempted to link Reeves to a scandal involving former Green Bay Packers player Brett Favre
Brandon Presley attends a recruiting event in Jackson, Mississippi on Monday
Brandon Presley addresses a group of supporters Monday at an election event in Jackson, Mississippi, ahead of Tuesday’s gubernatorial election
Reeves also spent taxpayer money upgrading the Mississippi governor’s mansion, The Daily Beast reported in September.
The Republican spent thousands on a limonaia, an architectural feature for lemon trees, and a meditation garden.
Presley has also confronted the sitting governor about this.
“This is a reminder that Tate Reeves spent your tax dollars on $4,000 ice cream machines, a meditation garden, a lemon tree room, and a nearly $38,000 raise for himself, while our hospitals close and working families pay a 7% grocery tax. Make a plan to vote,” Presley posted on X on Monday.
Presley is pushing to expand Medicaid in the state — which has been offered for more than a decade under Obamacare — but every Republican governor has rejected it.
Presley took some advantage of his famous surname by playing See See Rider, a popular Elvis walk-on song, at a recent gathering in Nettleton.
And he also had help from Grisham.
“Renee and I have been coming back here every four years for a long time. Jackson is raising money in an effort to get the governor’s mansion back,” Grisham said at a recent Presley fundraiser. “And every four years we lose.”
‘But this is different. This year it is so different. There is a great candidate, a great speech, a great story, a great family and great ideas,” he said.