Cindy Hyde-Smith won a closer-than-expected re-election, to no fault but her own, over Democratic challenger Mike Espy in the special election to fill the remainder of retired senator Thad Cochran’s term.
Following a series of serious-foot-in-mouth statements (to Hyde-Smith supporters) or racist jabs (to practically everyone else) from Senator Hyde-Smith, an election she was supposed to sleepwalk through turned closer than the average Mississippi Senate race, 53.9 percent to Mike Espy’s 46.1 percent.
What are some key takeaways from the Special Election?
She said what?
Let’s address her comments first: to the Mississippi Republican, she said two really stupid things that every politician in the world, particularly in MISSISSIPPI should know not to say; to most everyone else (including myself) she was racially insensitive with a blatant disregard for history (the most optimistic approach) or flat-out peddling racism. No, she did not explicitly mention “lynching,” but with Mississippi’s history, any person who has read any book, ever, knows what mentioning a “public hanging” will lead to. As for the voter suppression “joke”: again, a basic remembrance of history should clear that right up.
Mississippi has a horrifying history—Hyde-Smith should have known better. If she doesn’t, that speaks volumes. She should have just apologized and moved on—not blamed everyone else in such a Trumpian style, but she didn’t.
In this heavy-Republican state, Hyde-Smith is her own worst enemy—she would be wise to just never say anything—sans voting in the Senate or the words “President Trump” (more on that later)—between now and 2020.
Hyde-Smith’s political career will ride or die with President Trump
No, his last-ditch double rally effort didn’t push her over the edge; Hyde-Smith was always going to win the runoff. Trump saved Mississippi’s first female senator much earlier: when he publicly endorsed Hyde-Smith, propelling her past Republican primary challenger Chris McDaniel. Senator Hyde-Smith campaigned in a tour bus with a massive picture of her, standing with President Trump. The senator has latched herself onto a president who won Mississippi by almost 18 points—a smart strategy, unless his administration goes down like the Titanic.
While Trump is popular in the state, her strategy will probably work—so long as she doesn’t alienate him, which she has made her political mission to not do. In campaign ads she cited the president’s agenda—Hyde-Smith will be linked to Trump for better or worse, for the remainder of their concurrent tenures. What happens when he’s gone? What reason will voters have to keep her over challengers, especially with her apparent talent for making the worst possible headlines?
Dems will be back
The last time a Mississippi Republican got less than 55 percent of the vote for Senator? Trent Lott (53.9 percent) in 1988, filling a seat vacated by the state’s last Democratic senator, John C. Stennis, who served from 1947 until 1989. Stennis was the last Mississippi holdout, in the US Senate, of the old Democratic South—he voted against the Civil Rights Act (of 1964 and 1968), against the Voting Rights Act, and against establishing Martin Luther King, Jr. Day as a federal holiday. Before then? Thad Cochran (45.3 percent) in 1978, in a three-ticket race, to replace the retiring James Eastland (Southern Democrat, 1947-1978), who shared Stennis’ views against civil rights—once claiming the Supreme Court’s ruling in Brown v. Board of Education “destroyed” the Constitution and Mississippians were “not obliged to obey the decisions of any court which are plainly fraudulent sociological considerations.”
In more modern times, Roger Wicker only received 55 percent of the vote in 2008 against Ronnie Musgrove—during a special election to replace Trent Lott that was smack in the middle of the Obama wave.
Mike Espy, an attorney who was Bill Clinton’s Secretary of Agriculture from 1993-94 and Mississippi’s 2nd Congressional District representative from 1987-93, was, perhaps, almost the ideal candidate to oppose Hyde-Smith, and he ran the best Democratic Senate campaign in Mississippi’s modern history. Hyde-Smith’s campaign donations were dwarfed by her predecessor Cochran, and she’ll probably “insert foot into mouth” several more times before the 2020 election. Espy lost, but he showed hope for the party—at least against Hyde-Smith—and 2020 is setting up to be a massive election covered and politicized like no other before—Democrats probably won’t forget about getting Mississippi into single digits when they seek to flip the Senate in 2020. I don’t know if Espy will be back, but Democrats will almost certainly be back in 2020, especially should Trump’s popularity wane in the state.