Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Race of the Day- Mississippi U.S. Senate

 Mississippi U.S. Senate

77 Days Until Election Day
Status: Republican Incumbent
2016 Presidential Result: Red State (South)

Outlook: Likely Republican

The last few years have been somewhat turbulent as it relates to this one particular Mississippi Senate seat, but it seems likely to be stabilized a bit after this November.

Thad Cochran, who passed away last year, was a long time Republican Senator, popular at home with Republicans and respected by Democrats as well in his state and in Washington D.C. In 2014, he found himself challenged in the primary by a Tea Party adherent who ran to his right and said that Cochran had been in office too long. While dismissed at first, State Senator Chris McDaniel gained momentum and placed first in the primary that year. However, Mississippi law dictated a runoff would be necessary. At this point, Cochran had largely been counted out and Democrats harbored hopes of picking up the seat against a divisive opponent. The runoff campaign was nasty and controversial, and Cochran made the unusual step of appealing to Democrats and African-Americans in particular, to cross over and vote in the runoff. In one of the more unique circumstances, it worked and Cochran won the runoff and another full term in November.

However, the Senator, who had already been slowed down, saw his health decline further and he resigned his seat in 2018, setting up the need for a special election later that year. The state's then Republican Governor Phil Bryant appointed Cindy Hyde-Smith to fill the vacancy in a move that did not please all Republicans in the state. She is the first ever woman to serve in Congress from Mississippi.

As a member of the State Senate, Hyde-Smith was a conservative Democrat who joined others in the era from her state in switching to the GOP in 2010. The next year, as a Republican, she won the first of two terms as the state's elected Agriculture and Commerce Commissioner. Some in the Trump White House were said to be disappointed by the appointment, citing that Hyde-Smith was a former Democrat. They seem to have forgotten that Donald Trump was a Democrat too.
Chris McDaniel, who never actually conceded his runoff loss to Cochran entered the special election, which would be voted on in November, before a runoff later that month if nobody reached 50 percent. With two Republicans in the race, that appeared certain, although they would formally appear without party labels throughout the special election. Only one well-known Democrat would run though. Mike Espy was a former Congressman who came from one of the most prominent African-American families in the state. When Bill Clinton became President, Espy became the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, the first of his race to ever hold that office. While in the Cabinet, Espy resigned under an ethical cloud and was eventually indicted on a gifts charge, but acquitted on all counts after a trial. After this he into private law practice, and even endorsed a Republican to be Governor of Mississippi at one point.

Espy attempted to make a political comeback in the 2018 special Senate election. He was viewed as someone who would have the possibility of engineering a large African-American turnout. In the first round of voting, Espy finished just barely behind the new incumbent with both receiving 41 percent of the vote. The more hardline conservative McDaniel received 16 percent of the vote and was eliminated, but it seemed clear that a Democrat in Mississippi might have a ceiling.

At this point, Hyde-Smith had made some ill advised statements on the campaign trail that some thought were racially insulting. I think her reference to a "public hanging" was more along the lines of an awkward gaffe that a reference to lynching, which was a very different thing historically. Nonetheless, she had created an image for herself that had not existed before and complicated the race. Her 54-46 victory over Espy in the runoff was not exactly a nailbiter, but still closer than most thought it should be.

Now, the state is having the regular election for the full term of this Senate seat and party labels will be on the ballot, which might be further helpful to Republicans in a state as conservative as Mississippi. Hyde-Smith was nominated without opposition and Espy, encouraged perhaps by his 2018 experience, is making another try, and did not have to get past any serious primary opposition.
Some polls showed that Hyde-Smith held a very large lead, but some recent ones show a competitive race. Espy is perhaps a good candidate and Hyde-Smith may not be an all star campaigner, but this southern state, which will be carried again by Donald Trump is unlikely to boot a Republican, who now has more of a semblance of incumbency. If that were to somehow happen, we are looking at a political tsunami around the country. Hyde-Smith should win by a few more points at least than last time.

U.S. Senate races predicted thus far:

9 D (3 Safe, 1 Likely, 3 Lean, 2 Tossup) 
10 R (2 Safe, 4 Likely, 3 Lean, 1 Tossup)

Total with predictions thus far:

44 Democrats (35 holdovers, 3 Safe, 1 Likely, 3 Lean, 2 Tossup)
40 Republicans (30 holdovers, 2 Safe, 4 Likely, 3 Lean, 1 Tossup)


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