(Headline USA) President Joe Biden’s name won’t appear on the ballot anywhere in 2023, but you wouldn’t know it from the campaigns that Republican candidates for governor are running in Kentucky and Mississippi.
GOP nominees in both states—Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron and first-term Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves—are just as likely to mention the hugely unpopular Democrat president as they are to name the person they face in the Nov. 7 general election.
Tying candidates for governor to national political figures is a well-worn strategy but also reflects the particular failings of the 80-year-old leader, whom many, especially in red states, see as the second-worst president in U.S. history after James Buchanan, who bears much of the responsibility for allowing the Civil War to happen.
“If you’re the Republican Party in these states and you’re hoping to generate large voter turnout for your Republican candidate, it makes sense to certainly vilify Joe Biden,” according to Carrie Archie Russell, an expert on southern politics at Vanderbilt University.
As with Buchanan, Biden’s rhetoric has helped to usher in an era of deepening ideological divides. The president himself has often vilified supporters of his predecessor, former President Donald Trump, as “ultra-MAGA” extremists, and has even weaponized the Justice Department to target those who speak out against the leftist agenda.
Even when there’s no evidence to support the claims, such rhetoric allows candidates to create a “mental shortcut for identifying individuals as ‘us’ or ‘them,’” Russell said.
But now, with even members of his own party begining to turn against him as they scramble to replace him in the 2024 election, Biden is getting a dose of his own medicine.
In 2020, then-President Donald Trump won 62% of the vote in Kentucky and 58% in Mississippi in his loss to Biden.
The Kentucky and Mississippi gubernatorial campaigns might well serve as messaging test-drives for next year, when, as of now, Biden is expected to be on the ballot.
And while there’s a Republican incumbent in Mississippi and it’s a Democrat seeking a second term in Kentucky, the competitions bear striking similarities to each other.
First-term Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear is first appeared on the scene as the son of the last Democrat to win the governor’s office, Steve Beshear. He emerged from serving as the state’s attorney general to unseat the incumbent Republican governor, Matt Bevin, four years ago.
In Mississippi, the opponent’s last name also carries additional weight. Democrat Brandon Presley is a cousin of rock ‘n’ roll legend Elvis Presley. Then again, he may not be quite so eager to have voters associate him with his first name. It has become synonymous with Biden following the viral “Let’s go Brandon” meme, which was used to ridicule the media’s rosy coverage of him early in his presidency.
Beshear has appeared with Biden during times of tragedy, consoling victims of tornadoes and flooding that hit Kentucky. In Mississippi, Reeves put aside anti-Biden rhetoric when he appeared with the president to survey tornado damage in March.
Just as Reeves does in Mississippi, Cameron blames Biden’s economic policies for fueling sharply higher consumer prices that strain family budgets.
“They call it ’Bidenomics.’ I think the rest of us just call it 40-year high, record inflation,” Cameron said during a recent gubernatorial forum hosted by the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce.
Cameron has also set his sights on Biden’s energy policies, saying the results would be devastating in coal-producing Kentucky. The coal industry has declined considerably but is still viewed by many as a cornerstone of the Bluegrass State’s economy.
Biden wants to convert the U.S. economy to renewable energy such as wind and solar power, while turning away from coal and other fossil fuels that produce planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions.
In vowing to push back, Cameron said: “You need somebody that is willing to go against the grain of the far-left and the environmentalists that are trying to destroy our fossil fuels industry.”
In Mississippi, Reeves says the state has momentum under his leadership, with education improvements, the state’s largest income-tax cut, and a low unemployment rate. And he warns the state is under threat from Presley and national Democrats.
“To support him, you’ve got to believe we are on the wrong track,” Reeves said. “You’ve got to believe that our culture is wrong and that our values are bad. You’ve got to think that the state would be better off run by Bennie, Biden and Brandon.”
Bennie is Rep. Bennie Thompson, the only Democrat in Mississippi’s congressional delegation. Thompson was chairman of the House Jan. 6 committee. He is publicly supporting Presley in the governor’s race.
Presley, a utility regulator, says little about Biden, and he chafes at Reeves’s effort to bring national politics into the Mississippi governor’s contest. Instead, Presley consistently tries to tie Reeves to a welfare misspending scandal that developed when Reeves was lieutenant governor and had the power to oversee how the state Department of Human Services was using money.
“Well, I say a vote for him is a vote for the corrupt system in place,” Presley said of Reeves. “A vote for him is a vote for a failing health care system. A vote for him is a vote for the highest sales tax on groceries in America.”
Meanwhile, the man capitalizing on the name of a celebrity cousin he never knew (Elvis died a month after he was born), and who has been dead for nearly half a century, insisted that he didn’t any high-profile help from the other “Brandon.”
“[Y]ou know, I’m my own man,” he said. “Always have been. A vote for Brandon Presley is a vote for Brandon Presley.”
Adapted from reporting by the Associated Press