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Mississippi Senate race analysis: polls predict 2 party run-off

MS senate election Mike Espy (D) and Cindy Hyde-Smith (R) are expected to be in a run-off election in late November.

The “jungle primary” tomorrow, Nov.6, is perhaps the most interesting, most important Mississippi U.S. Senate contest in at least 100 years. It’s called a jungle primary because it’s more or less a free-for-all, in which candidates run without party identification on the ballot.

However, two of the candidates are Democrats, one is a Republican, and one is a Democrat-turned-Republican.

Who are the Senate race candidates?

In alphabetical order the candidates are:

  • Democrat Tobey Bartee, who previously served on the Gautier, Miss. city council. Bartee is expected to receive less than one percent of the vote; no more about him.
  • Democrat Mike Espy, born in Yazoo City, was elected to four terms as the Democratic U.S. Congressman from Mississippi’s Second District. Shortly after Espy started his fourth term in the House, Bill Clinton appointed him as the new U.S. Secretary of Agriculture. He was quickly confirmed by the U.S. Senate and resigned from Congress to accept the appointment to President Clinton’s cabinet.

However in a case that still has legal scholars scratching their heads two decades later, Clinton’s Justice Department (DOJ) charged that Espy had taken improper gifts while serving as Ag Secretary. The Clinton Administration appointed a special prosecutor named Donald Smaltz to investigate and prosecute Espy. Smaltz spent $20-million federal dollars in pursuing Espy. Espy was charged with receiving rides on corporate aircraft, receiving hotel accommodations and, from Quaker Oats company, $90-worth of tickets to the NBA basketball playoffs.

Espy refused to plea bargain and insisted on going to trial.

During the run-up to the trial, a portion of the case was thrown out by a U.S. Appeals Court. Smaltz appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which affirmed the lower court’s decision. Writing for the full court, Associate Justice Antonin Scalia, a conservative Republican, said DOJ’s interpretation of the law used to charge Espy was erroneous and too broad. Scalia wrote that, under DOJ’s interpretation of the statute, a high school principal could be in legal trouble for giving a school baseball cap to a visiting Secretary of Education.

Smaltz then took the 30 remaining indictments against Espy to trial and put on more than 70 witnesses. Espy’s defense team presented no defense witnesses and simply told the jury that DOJ had failed to prove a single criminal case against Espy. The jury agreed, acquitting Espy on every charge. One theory was that, like Nixon’s DOJ prosecuting his own Vice-President Spiro Agnew in 1993, the Clinton’s sought to distract attention from their own legal troubles by prosecuting Espy. It didn’t work for Nixon. It may have worked for Bill and Hillary, inasmuch as neither has stood trial for crimes.

MS senate race

Democrat Mike Espy endorsed Republican Haley Barbour in 2007.

It’s worth noting that Espy supported Republican Governor Haley Barbour in the latter’s 2007 re-election campaign.

  • Cindy Hyde-Smith of Brookhaven is the Democrat/Republican. As a Democrat, she represented Mississippi’s 39th District in the state senate for twelve years. Like many former Democrats, she jumped to the Republican Party as it became the dominant party in the state. She made the switch eight years ago in 2010. For six years and three months she served as Mississippi’s Commissioner of Agriculture and Commerce under the GOP brand. She has said she does “not remember” whether she voted for Hillary Clinton in the 2008 Mississippi Democratic Primary. Many Democrats have charged that she did indeed support Mrs. Clinton in 2008. It is not known whether she supported Republican Governor Haley Barbour’s 2007 re-election campaign.

In April, 2018, Senator Thad Cochran retired due to poor health after 45 years service as a Republican in the U.S. Congress. Cochran had previously identified as a Democrat, but ran the Mississippi “Democrats for Nixon” campaign in 1968. Cochran was considered a political moderate, sometimes spelled L-I-B-E-R-A-L in the Magnolia State.

Republican Governor Phil Bryant, seeking someone to appoint as Cochran’s temporary replacement, had been turned down by at least two other Republicans, when he appointed Hyde-Smith to the vacancy. Hyde-Smith is running in the jungle primary to serve the last two years of Cochran’s term. She has the support of Governor Bryant, and President Donald Trump spoke for her at a big rally in Desoto County last month.

  • Republican Chris McDaniel, a forever Republican from Jones County, is also in the jungle primary. He has served as a Republican in the Mississippi Senate since 2008.

Running with the support of the Tea Party element of the GOP, McDaniel very nearly defeated incumbent Thad Cochran in the Republican primary in 2014. In fact, McDaniel edged Cochran by half a percentage point in that primary. Neither had 50 percent of the vote as required by Mississippi law. Cochran beat McDaniel 51 percent to 49 percent in the runoff.

McDaniel then charged that “the runoff election was a sham, plain and simple” and that Cochran had “stolen” the election. McDaniel responded with lawsuits and demands for recounts. A state judge dismissed McDaniel’s recount lawsuit, and the Mississippi Supreme Court sustained the lower court in a 4-2 decision on October 24, 2018.

McDaniel did not endear himself to the Mississippi Republican establishment and his refusal to accept 2014 run-off results was considered ungracious.

Who will win?

My favorite election forecaster, Nate Silver’s, does not conduct polls, but rather takes the results of many different polls and applies Silver’s elaborate statistical analysis to make its predictions. Since he called all 50 states correctly in the 2012 presidential election, Silver has continued to be more right than most in his election predictions.

As of Nov. 4, Silver’s 538 says both Espy and Hyde-Smith will get 39 percent of the vote in the jungle primary. Silver expects McDaniel to get about 18 percent. Thus, Espy and Hyde-Smith are expected to be in a run-off election at the end of November.

I expect McDaniel to do a little better than Silver predicts, but who knows?

Who will McDaniel’s voters support in a run-off?

One thing’s pretty certain, huge out-of-state dollars will pour into both campaigns in an Espy/Hyde-Smith runoff.


Another important consideration for Mississippi’s future:

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