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Appealing to Inactive Voters Where They Live Can Help Brandon Presley Win Governor’s Seat

Brandon Presley could win his upcoming race for Mississippi governor by turning out Democratic voters who have not pulled the lever or marked their ballots in years, as well as those who may have never voted. Many of these would-be voters say the government has let them down and that the state is stuck with the party in charge, so why bother.

Turning out more voters to win an election sounds obvious, does it not? Nevertheless, Democratic candidates in past elections have done very little to increase turnout in many predominantly low-turnout, high-poverty, Black-dominated precincts where most “retired” Democratic voters live. Former Attorney General Jim Hood and former U.S. Congressman and Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy lost their statewide elections for governor and U.S. senator, respectively, in part because they did not pay enough attention to these enclaves of voters.

Knock on Doors, Turn Out Voters

Instead of relying only on high-tech voter-ID apps, robo calls, advertising and social-media strategies, as most candidates do these days, Presley must re-fashion the old-fashioned way of turning out votes in poverty-laden, voting precincts containing people of color. This was the approach of Mississippi Civil Rights Movement leaders in the 1960s and 1070s to register Black voters. Espy used similar tactics in 1986 to become the first Black congressman from Mississippi since Reconstruction.

Remember door-knocking? Door-knocking used to be about having conversations with mostly people of color in Democratic neighborhoods on their doorsteps or in their homes, whether they were registered or not, and explaining why they benefit by voting for a Democratic candidate.

BlueLabs, a data-service firm in Washington, D.C., and New York City that Espy commissioned in 2021, analyzed Mississippian votes in 2016, 2018 and 2020. The study found that while African American turnout had increased, white turnout was proportionally higher. White Republican voters’ tortured allegiance to Donald Trump drove them to the polls.

Progressive-leaning Black voters’ rightful loathing of Trump drove them, too. I saw that up close, working for Espy in his 2020 Senate race in Greenville, Miss., the heart of the Mississippi Delta, where I door-knocked.

Karen Hinton worked for

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