Most Mississippians woke up on November 28th thinking, “Whew. I’m glad that’s over”.
Mississippi got a small taste of “big boy” national politics during the 2014 Republican Senate Primary, but this 2018 special election was the first nationally focused political race featuring both parties that had any meaning or intrigue in more than a decade. Truthfully, the frenzy around the Mississippi race was not much different than highly contentious Senate races in Florida, Missouri or Indiana. Mississippians just hadn’t seen one like this up close in a while where both sides came to play.
The final math with 100% of precincts reporting showed Cindy Hyde Smith with 479,278 (54%) to Mike Espy’s tally of 410,693 (46%). Just for historical context, in 2008, an appointed US Senator Roger Wicker beat former Governor Ronnie Musgrove 55-45%. Keep in mind also, that Hyde-Smith got 430,000+ voters in her last bid for office as Agriculture Commissioner in 2015.
Both candidates increased their vote tallies from the general election on November 6. Hyde-Smith increased by 91,000 votes and Espy increased by 16,000 votes. Espy’s increase makes some sense. He did minimal campaigning until right before November 6 opting to conserve his money and GOTV efforts for the runoff. In the $3 million or so that was spent either by him or on his behalf in November, getting 16,000 additional votes is arguably not much of a return on investment. If you factor the nearly 14,000 votes that Tobey Bartee got on November 6 that presumably trended toward Espy, the math really gets troubling.
As for Hyde-Smith, the big question was could she consolidate voters who supported Chris McDaniel in the general election. The answer to the question was largely yes. In Jones County, for instance, she did consolidate most of the Republicans in the county that McDaniel clearly won. There were a few thousand voters that stayed home as compared to the general, but not a meaningful amount. There were some other counties like Desoto where it’s clear that some Republicans sat out the runoff in larger proportions that other counties, but again it was not statistically significant.
The Trump Effect
What remains clear is that Donald Trump is stronger than goat’s breath in Mississippi. In Lee County, Hyde-Smith consolidated about 85% of the vote tally from McDaniel after the President’s visit there. Similar outcomes occurred in the Coast counties where Trump also appeared.
Arguably, Cindy Hyde-Smith’s comments and the media scrutiny that ensued likely cost her a couple of points on the final tally. But the bond between Trump and Hyde-Smith, from all appearances, is pretty genuine, and it looks like Trump will continue to support her.
Congratulations to Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith on your big WIN in the Great State of Mississippi. We are all very proud of you!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 28, 2018
There is some chatter in both local and national political corners that started to speculate that Hyde-Smith might be vulnerable and receive a primary opponent in 2020. She might. But the calendar is going to be pretty unkind to a challenger. Here’s why.
First, Trump is likely going to be on a 2020 ballot. By the middle of 2019, the country will be meaningfully in the middle of a presidential re-election as candidacies will be announced and pre-primary season will be in full swing. Mississippi will be in the middle of its own statewide elections. Because the 2020 Republican primary will be on Super Tuesday in March, that means that qualifying deadline will likely be in January 2020. But a meaningful primary challenger would have to be working most of 2019 (starting at the very latest in Neshoba) to raise money and build an apparatus to knock off an incumbent. And that means that whoever came out in the middle of next year would be running headlong against an incumbent endorsed by Donald Trump. Ask Chris McDaniel how that worked out for him (hint – not too good – twice).
That’s not to say that Hyde-Smith doesn’t have some work to do. She clearly does. Her reality is now that everything she says or does is being filmed or recorded. Everything. And because she’s from Mississippi, anything that could be spun with a racial or negative context will. No matter what. It’s a whole different reality from being Mississippi’s Ag Commissioner. And it’s not normal to act that way all the time, but that’s her new reality. She needs to provide outstanding constituent service, build a team of people around her (both on the campaign side and the Senate staff side) that reflects what she’s trying to do. And she needs to actively build bridges to both Democrats and Republicans throughout the state. She needs to be steadily raising money as her campaign for 2020 started this morning.
Great senators aren’t always great candidates, but many people who are really good at holding office over time have eventually become really good candidates. And lest anyone doubt, she’s still a prohibitive favorite for re-election, by the math, in 2020.
It’s hard to know where to start. Public expectations of local and national media were close to non-existent to begin with, but one positive by-product from this election is that it should be clearer than ever about who’s operating with clean hands and who isn’t.
Here are just a few examples within the last 96 hours of the election.
Jerry Mitchell of the Clarion Ledger wrote an article about a confederate flag being laid at the gravesite of civil rights leader Vernon Dahmer and only in the 9th paragraph was it mentioned that the person who did it was African American and was doing it out of protest. That’s a pretty big contextual nugget that was buried.
The Jackson Free Press, bless their hearts, shopped a story to national media about Hyde-Smith and her daughter both attending “segregation schools” (in the 47 years of living in Mississippi, I’ve never heard private schools called “segregation schools”). They even dug out old yearbooks for the effort (supplied by “anonymous” sources). It was straight out of central casting and national media bit on the story hook, line and sinker.
Eric Dyson on MSNBC went full out calling Hyde-Smith, who has served in Mississippi as a publicly elected official for two decades as a “racist” and “white supremacist”. And the MSNBC hosts seem to just go right along with it and then seem to treat “white Mississippians” like trying to figure out some newly discovered tribe on some undeveloped island.
And we could go on and on and on.
Phil Bryant, for his part, gaslighted the media in his congratulatory speech for Hyde-Smith
Tonight, @PhilBryantMS gaslighted the media at the @cindyhydesmith victory party thanking them for "turning out Republicans like never before"#mssen#mselex #MSM @VaughnHillyard @JxnFreePress @DonnerKay @ashtonpittman@GanucheauAdam @thisislarrison @BobbyHarrison9 pic.twitter.com/jfvfGgX59H
— Yall Politics (@MSyallpolitics) November 28, 2018
Posted by Cindy Hyde-Smith on Tuesday, November 27, 2018
But the Hyde-Smith campaign probably got the biggest social media chuckle of the campaign.
— Team Cindy (@TeamHydeSmith) November 28, 2018
But again, just about every media outlet inside Mississippi and beyond was helplessly-hopelessly in the tank for Espy (while pretending they weren’t), and the reaction/overreaction to Hyde-Smith’s comments by the media created a backlash with a lot of voters. 2019 candidates (particularly Republicans) should be taking copious notes because soon the fire will be focused on them.
Mississippi, don’t get too comfortable. 2019 statewide elections are just around the corner and expect the first shots for primary contests to be fired in December. We will be here with expanding coverage as we have been for the last 14 years.
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