The hand has begun writing on the wall. The not-so-slim lady is tuning her pipes. The Nov. 27 run-off between Cindy Hyde-Smith and Mike Espy is all but a done deal, with Hyde-Smith the clear winner.
Barring a political miracle, that’s what the numbers and political realities say.
The numbers first.
Espy needed a strong, above average showing last week. He got a surge over normal Democratic turnout, about 140,000 more votes than the mid-term turnout four years ago. But Republicans got a bigger surge, about 154,000 more votes. That left Espy with the usual Democratic vote percentage of 40%, about what David Baria got too.
The candidate showing surprising strength was Hyde-Smith. She not only walloped fellow Republican Chris McDaniel by more than a two to one margin – even with McDaniel getting almost the same vote as he did in the GOP primary against Thad Cochran in 2014 when he stunned the nation, but she also led the ticket.
In other words she already beat Espy straight up even with McDaniel in the race.
The total Republican vote percentage was the usual 60%. As MSNBC Hardball commentator Chris Matthews noted, the gap between Hyde-Smith and Espy was small, but the gap between Republicans and Democrats was huge.
Further, unlike Attorney General Jim Hood, Espy showed no ability to attract normally Republican votes. He got more Democratic votes than usual, including a whopping 56,000 votes in Hinds County, but Republicans stayed true. Hyde-Smith polled more Republican votes than Phil Bryant did in November 2015. And she and McDaniel together polled more votes in Harrison County than Donald Trump did in November 2016, a whopping 43,000 votes.
Overall, there were nearly 300,000 more votes in this mid-term election than four years ago. But that total was still about 300,000 votes less than in the presidential election in 2016. In that race, Donald Trump beat Hilary Clinton 58% to 40% (there’s that 40% again).
Now, the political realities.
Espy can only wish for that additional 100,000 votes that Clinton got to show up on Nov. 27, while praying that the 175,000 additional votes Trump got will stay home. Results in key races in Tennessee, Florida and Georgia suggest that’s not gonna happen. The “Trump surge” driven by his race-tinged, fiery rhetoric worked in those states to offset Democratic surges. There is no reason to think he won’t continue this vibe to Hyde-Smith’s benefit during the runoff.
Indeed, Hyde-Smith’s campaign focus matched that of Marsha Blackburn in Tennessee, Ron DeSantis in Florida, and Brian Kemp in Georgia. That focus was “I love Trump,” and, most importantly, “he loves me.”
Many thought this run-off might decide partisan control of the U.S. Senate. Instead Republicans have already secured their majority, taking much of the limelight off this race. That dimming importance just further dims Espy’s chances.
Then there’s that McDaniel vote. It’s not going to Espy.
“We now have to unite,” McDaniel told his loyal base, as reported by Mississippi Today. “Mr. Espy cannot be allowed to win this seat. President Trump wants us to unite, and we will unite. We will back Cindy Hyde-Smith.”
Oh, there may be a debate or two and an Obama or Clinton may be spotted, along with a Trump to stir interest, but this party is all but over.
» BILL CRAWFORD is a syndicate columnist from Meridian.
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