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A viewing guide for the debate between Gov. Tate Reeves and Brandon Presley

Republican Gov. Tate Reeves and Democratic challenger Brandon Presley will square off Wednesday night in their first and only debate before the Nov. 7 gubernatorial election.

Presley publicly challenged Reeves to multiple public debates this year, but Reeves refused to debate more than once. After much back and forth, the candidates agreed to tonight’s debate — a one-hour, no commercial breaks affair.

The debate will be broadcast live Wednesday, Nov. 1 at 7 p.m. by WAPT-TV (Channel 16 in central Mississippi) and on the station’s website WAPT.com. It will be simulcast live on Mississippi Public Broadcasting’s TV stations, radio stations and MPBonline.org.

Note: If you’re in the Jackson metro area, come to Hal & Mal’s for a free Mississippi Today watch party. Doors open at 6 p.m., we’ll stream the debate live at 7 p.m. on the big screen, and we’ll host a few minutes of live analysis as soon as it ends. Click this link for more information and how to register. We hope to see you there!

Here’s what Mississippi Today’s political team is watching out for during the debate.

How will Gov. Tate Reeves perform under pressure?

Reeves, who has participated in several televised debates, has publicly made light of the fact that he’s not the strongest public speaker. In previous debates, he’s held his own and landed some jabs, but he is prone to become visibly flustered when pressed hard.

How will Presley do in his first major debate?

The Nov. 1 debate is Presley’s first public debate of this magnitude. Privately, he’s been telling supporters he’s been waiting for this moment “for years.” Outside of a traditional debate setting, he’s always been quick to challenge his opponents’ assertions and seems to relish public speaking opportunities. But will the pressure get to him when the studio lights go on?

How nasty and personal will it get?

If you’ve watched television in the past three months, you’ve seen plenty of attacks from both campaigns. Reeves has called Presley “a liar” who is well-funded from “California and New York.” Presley has called Reeves corrupt and drawn attention to the governor’s ties to the state’s massive welfare scandal. The attacks should be plentiful, but can the candidates also talk substantively about policy ideas?

How might the candidates speak to undecided voters?

Public and reported internal polling from the past week or so has shown that between 5-10% of voters are still undecided . That percentage of voters absolutely could swing the election one way or another. If the voters haven’t been convinced yet by the attacks of the other, it’s logical to assume they want to hear ideas for how the two candidates would govern over the next four years.

How will Reeves defend his opposition to Medicaid expansion?

Presley has hammered Reeves all year for blocking a policy that would provide health coverage to at least 200,000 working Mississippians. Expansion is popular among voters, and hospitals have begged for it as they struggle to keep their doors open. 

How will Presley address Reeves’ attacks of being aligned with national Democrats?

This line of attack has, in the modern era, aided Republicans greatly. Presley outraised Reeves during this election cycle, largely due to the Washington-based Democratic Governors Association. Can Presley level with voters who are concerned he’s tight with national Democrats?

In such a short total airtime, how much ground will WAPT cover?

It was a coup for WAPT to land this debate, given they are the smallest reach in the Jackson media market and no statewide affiliate partners. The debate will be moderated by WAPT anchors Megan West and Troy Johnson, who have a difficult task ahead of them. Can they touch on the major issues and keep the candidates from deflecting or filibustering?

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