Final Senate Seat to Be Decided Today in Runoff Election
Will Mississippi elect its first black Senator since Reconstruction in what would be the second shocking southern election after Doug Jones’ win in Alabama?
Mississippi is holding a special runoff election today to determine their next Senator and the final undecided seat in the Senate. While the election won’t impact the balance of power in the Senate, it will make a powerful statement about the state of politics in the state.
Contesting for the seat are Democrat Mike Epsy and Republican Cindy Hyde-Smith. Hyde-Smith was appointed to the seat in April of 2018 by Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant when current Senator Thad Cochran retired due to health reasons. The two are competing to serve out the remainder of Cochran’s term which is up in 2020 and when they would face another election.
Mississippi is considered a deeply Republican state that has not voted for a Democrat President since Jimmy Carter in 1976. The last Democrat to serve as governor in the state was Ronnie Musgrove who served from 2000 to 2004. However, Mississippi has not elected a Democratic Senator since 1982.
Epsy and Hyde-Smith first went head to head in the general election on November 6, 2018, but neither won the necessary 50 percent of the vote to avoid a runoff. Epsy won 40.6 percent of the vote while Hyde-Smith won 41.5 percent of the vote, a difference of about 9,000 votes between the two.
While Hyde-Smith is considered a strong favorite going into Tuesday’s race, Epsy has run one of the most successful Democratic campaigns in the state in years. Additionally, Hyde-Smith has made some missteps in recent weeks with highly controversial remarks, including a remark about public hangings in a state with a history of racial tensions and lynching of black people.
At a campaign rally on November 2, in Tupelo, Mississippi Hyde-Smith introduced a supporter by saying, “If he invited me to a public hanging, I’d be on the front row.”
"If he invited me to a public hanging, I'd be on the front row"- Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith says in Tupelo, MS after Colin Hutchinson, cattle rancher, praises her.
Hyde-Smith is in a runoff on Nov 27th against Mike Espy. pic.twitter.com/0a9jOEjokr
— Lamar White, Jr. (@LamarWhiteJr) November 11, 2018
Hyde-Smith also made more controversial comments on November 3 at a campaign stop in Starkville, Mississippi which her critics have called a support for voter suppression.
In another recorded video she said, “there’s a lot of liberal folks in those other schools who maybe we don’t want to vote.” She also added, “maybe we want to make it just a little more difficult.”
Her remarks were controversial enough that both Walmart and Major League Baseball requested she refund their campaign contributions.
Adding to the racial tension in the race, seven nooses were found hanging from trees on the grounds of the Mississippi state capital building. The nooses were accompanied by signs that referenced the state’s history of racial discrimination.
One sign read, “On Tuesday Nov. 27, thousands of Mississippians will vote for a senator. We need someone who respects the lives of lynch victims”
Another sign read, “We’re hanging nooses to remind people that times haven’t changed.”
Espy needs a strong black turnout to win and roughly a quarter of the white turnout. As FiveThirtyEight reported, Mississippi has one of the largest populations of black voters (approximately 36 percent of eligible voters) but it has relatively few undecided voters with most white voters registered as Republicans.
Epsy himself is not without controversy. Epsy’s opponents have focused on his indictment for improperly receiving gifts while serving as Secretary of Agriculture under President Bill Clinton, though he was acquitted on all charges. Epsy also was a former lobbyist for Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo who was accused of crimes against humanity. Epsy says he only received partial payment for his work after he dropped the job a month into the agreement.
If Epsy wins he will be the first black Senator from Mississippi since the Reconstruction Era.
Polls close 8 PM eastern time.