As expected, Cindy Hyde-Smith trumped Mike Espy in the run-off election to fill the seat vacated by Sen. Thad Cochran.
Yes, trumped, both literally and figuratively – literally because she won handily 54% to 46% and figuratively because President Donald Trump flew into Mississippi the day before the election and stumped for her in Tupelo and Biloxi.
As I wrote three weeks ago, both the politics and the numbers were stacked for Hyde-Smith and against Espy.
Mississippi remains a majority conservative Republican state. Democratic efforts to tilt politics in their favor by painting Hyde-Smith, a decent, rural, conservative woman, as a throw-back segregationist fell on deaf ears among that conservative majority. It seems pretty clear that most of the first election vote for arch-conservative Chris McDaniel turned out for Hyde-Smith (or at least for Trump) and she was able to retain nearly all of her original vote. Indeed, Trump’s unwavering support along with strong support from Gov. Phil Bryant kept the politics stacked in Hyde-Smith’s favor.
As for the numbers, the strong Republican majority in the first election stacked them in her favor. In that election, Hyde-Smith and McDaniel won 514,549 votes while Espy and Tobey Bartee won 372,819, a huge gap of 141,730 votes. To overcome that gap, Espy needed an historic Democratic voter turnout and a much dwindled GOP turnout to have a chance.
Democratic votes did go up and GOP votes did go down, but not at the levels Espy needed.
Democratic votes were up 37,874 while Republican votes were down 35,271, a swing of 73,145 votes. The turnout in the two races was virtually the same, 2,609 votes more in the run-off, leaving Hyde-Smith with a substantial margin of 68,585 votes (479,278 to 410,693).
“Espy ran a historic race and outperformed all expectations of a Democrat in the ruby-red state of Mississippi,” proclaimed Newsweek in its election wrap-up.
In fact, Espy’s effort was somewhat less than historic. While his 46% proportion of the total vote was relatively high for a Democrat, his vote total fell well short of Hilary Clinton’s 485,131 in 2016 and far short of Barack Obama’s 528,260 in 2012. More significant was the lower turnout by Republicans. In 2016 Trump got 700,714 votes and in 2012 Mitt Romney got 674,302.
It’s problematic to compare presidential election turnout with mid-term turnout, but these numbers suggest there was some enthusiasm for Espy among Democrats but less enthusiasm for Hyde-Smith among Republicans. This is borne out anecdotally by comments like the following from various media sources:
The only reason I’m voting for her is because she’s a Republican. She’s the best of the worst. I just think she’s the less of the two evils. I wish I had somebody else to vote for. I’ll hold my nose and vote for Cindy Hyde-Smith. I’ll not vote for her again in two years.
Numerous Republicans privately said Hyde-Smith ran a lackluster campaign. Most blamed that on her handlers who kept her off camera and too scripted.
Whatever, Hyde-Smith now has about 12 months in the saddle to show she’s the right choice before her next race in 2020.
Oh, lost in all the doodah was one historic event. Mississippi just elected its first woman to Congress. Kudos to her and Gov. Bryant for appointing her.
» BILL CRAWFORD is a syndicate columnist from Meridian.
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