National Democratic groups routed millions of dollars into Mississippi, sensing that Tate Reeves, the Republican governor, might be vulnerable. Inside the state, some Republicans quietly fretted. Mr. Reeves’s likability had been a persistent concern, and there were signs that enthusiasm among conservatives had been flagging.

But on Tuesday night, Mr. Reeves stepped onto a stage at a hotel outside Jackson brimming with satisfaction: In the end, he had secured a second term by a five-point margin.

“Not too bad,” he told a crowd of supporters, for “one of the most unpopular governors in America!”

Even with his perceived flaws as a candidate and the sizable investment that Democrats made in hopes of capitalizing on them, Mr. Reeves, 49, swatted away an energetic challenge by Brandon Presley, a conservative Democrat whose campaign appeared to be gaining steam before Election Day.

In many ways, the race was Mr. Reeves’s to lose, given the grip the Republican Party has on Mississippi politics. Republicans hold every elected statewide office and have a supermajority in the state Legislature; the last Democrat to win a governor’s race did so in 1999.

Yet Mr. Presley, an elected public utilities commissioner and former mayor of Nettleton, Miss., his small hometown, believed he could succeed by cobbling together liberal-to-centrist white voters, frustrated Republicans and Black voters, who make up nearly 40 percent of the electorate. That alliance did not coalesce as he had hoped, not least because few Republicans could be swayed.

“You stick with what you know instead of the devil you don’t,” said Tammy Moody, 59, a Reeves voter who lives in Walls, by the Tennessee border.

Mr. Reeves campaigned on his conservative credentials while constantly linking Mr. Presley to President Biden and other national Democrats who are widely unpopular in Mississippi.

On the campaign trail, he boasted about unemployment dropping to its lowest rate in decades, and about tax cuts he had signed. He also campaigned on significant advances that had been made in public school reading scores — a transformation that has become known as the “Mississippi miracle” — and pointed to raises he approved for teachers that were among the largest in state history.

But Mr. Reeves’s first term has been marked by tumult and moments that prompted Mississippi to wrestle with its identity.

Last year, residents in Jackson, the state capital, endured stretches without running water or with boil notices because of aging and inadequate infrastructure and a lack of investment. State and federal officials intervened, but many in Jackson accused Mr. Reeves of contributing to the neglect by failing to act sooner.

In 2020, a broad and seemingly unlikely coalition successfully pushed to replace the longtime state flag, with its Confederate battle emblem. Mr. Reeves initially opposed legislation to remove it, favoring a statewide ballot measure; he then alienated some conservatives by agreeing to sign the bill.

Leslie Van Landingham, 57, has not forgiven him. “The No. 1 reason I don’t like Tate Reeves is because he makes calls I don’t believe in,” he said.

Still, Mr. Reeves got his vote. “We get accustomed to a certain way things are done,” Mr. Van Landingham, of Southaven, said.

Some voters who supported Mr. Reeves said they appreciated his response to the pandemic, particularly his resistance to closing businesses, churches and schools to slow the spread of the virus.

“I’m not a big fan of what they tried to do to us three years ago, not one bit whatsoever,” William Crowell, 61, of Southaven, said of public health officials.

But Mr. Crowell acknowledged the difficulty that Mr. Reeves, whose approval rating was the lowest of any governor in a poll conducted this summer by Morning Consult, had connecting with some voters.

“He’s likable, but — I don’t know,” he said. Referring to a nickname that even Mr. Reeves has come to embrace, he added, “We call him Tater Tot.”

Political analysts noted that Mr. Reeves underperformed on Tuesday compared with other Republicans in statewide races. “This is more a reflection on him,” said Marvin King, a political science professor at the University of Mississippi. “He does not have the same loyalty that perhaps others have.”

Mr. Presley, a second cousin of Elvis Presley with a folksy touch, had hoped he could leverage that.

He described Mr. Reeves as out of touch with the needs of the working poor in Mississippi and sought to link him to a welfare scandal that has engulfed state government, in which about $77 million intended to support poor residents was redirected to the pet projects of wealthy and connected Republicans.

Mr. Reeves denied any involvement in the scandal, which took place mostly while he was lieutenant governor. He had said his administration was working to recoup the money, but he was criticized for the firing in July of the former federal prosecutor who had been hired to oversee that effort.

Mr. Presley had bet that he could woo some independent and even Republican voters with his conservative positions on issues like abortion and his promise to expand Medicaid, which has broad support.

He believed that his campaign could be instructive to Democrats nationally, who, in his view, had largely given up on trying to recruit back white rural voters.

But the turnout that Mr. Presley needed to at least advance to a runoff did not materialize. His performance roughly matched that of Jim Hood, the former attorney general, who lost to Mr. Reeves in 2019. Overall, about 70,000 fewer votes were cast than in the 2019 governor’s race.

Professor King said the outcome should not discourage Democrats entirely.

“If Democrats can get the Republican down to 51 in Mississippi,” Professor King said, referring to Mr. Reeves’s share of the vote, just above the threshold for avoiding a runoff, “a longer effort could probably pay off every once in a while.”

Tamesha Martin, who voted for Mr. Presley, said she was doubtful that Democratic candidates could ever lure enough white voters.

“That’s always been a Mississippi thing,” said Ms. Martin, 34, of Southaven. “They just vote for the Republican, no matter who it is.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *