By: Sid Salter
As the Nov. 6 general election looms less than two week away in Mississippi, the fabled “stretch run” for the campaigns is underway. The campaign finance reports have revealed their last real secrets until after the campaigns are completed.
The major television buys have been made and scheduled. The ground game, at least the part that shows, has been deployed. Polling has, for the most part, been completed. Now, the voters will be called upon to render their judgment.
Mississippi voters will elect two U.S. senators in the 2018 elections. There is a highly partisan regular election Class I Senate seat up for grabs for a full six-year term to run from 2019 to 2025.Then there’s a non-partisan (in name only) special election Class II Senate seat being contested for a partial term that will end in 2021.
As noted before in this column, the Class I and Class II business isn’t a distinction between the rank or effectiveness of the two U.S. Senate seats, but has to do with the fact that the 100-member legislative body is divided into three classes of 33 or 34 each based on when they are up for re-election – with Class I members having terms ending in 2019 while Class II members have terms ending in 2021 and Class III members in 2023.
Mississippi’s incumbent Class I U.S. senator is incumbent Republican Sen. Roger Wicker of Tupelo who faces Democratic nominee State Rep. David Baria of Bay St. Louis, along with Libertarian Party nominee retired U.S. Navy diver Danny Bedwell of Columbus and Reform Party nominee and perennial candidate Shawn O’Hara of Hattiesburg. Wicker is a prohibitive favorite to win re-election.
Mississippi’s Class II U.S. senator is Republican Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith of Brookhaven, appointed by Gov. Phil Bryant to fill the unexpired term of former U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran, who stepped down from the post in April.
Challenging Hyde-Smith in the nonpartisan special election for the right to complete Cochran’s term is former municipal candidate Tobey Bartee of Gautier, former Democratic U.S. Secretary of Agriculture and former congressman Mike Espy of Madison, attorney and veteran Republican State Sen. Chris McDaniel of Ellisville (who lost a bruising 2014 GOP primary to Cochran).
To win, one of the four contenders must take 50 percent plus one vote to claim outright victory on Nov. 6. In this fiercely competitive race, partisans on either side of the aisle have long seen this race coming down to a runoff between the top two finishers on Nov. 27.
Given the fact that the state’s four congressional races aren’t particularly competitive and that judicial races in most parts of the state aren’t particularly engaging, voter turnout remains a concern. Why? Because partisan voter intensity is usually a deciding factor in most campaigns.
From 1980 to the present, Mississippi has voted Republican in presidential politics. Since 1996, Mississippi has voted Republican in presidential politics by an average of 55.6 percent and Democratic by an average 42.2 percent — with the rest of the vote scattered among third party or independent candidates.
For Espy, his best chance at victory would be to win it all on Nov. 6 while GOP voters are split between Hyde-Smith and McDaniel. For the math to work on that, Espy would need a truly massive and historic voter turnout. Neither Barack Obama nor Bill Clinton, the top two Democratic presidential contenders in modern Mississippi history, cracked 45 percent of the vote in this state.
Among Republicans, incumbent Hyde-Smith has consistently led in polling based in great measure on the active support of President Donald Trump, Gov. Phil Bryant, and superior resources. In the Class II race, the predicted Nov. 27 runoff is where the state’s conventional political wisdom gets truly tested.