Last week, Mississippians had the unique task of voting in two separate U.S. Senate races.
Sen. Roger Wicker, who has served since 2008 and was running in the regularly scheduled Senate race, defeated State Rep. David Baria, a Democrat from Hancock county, 59-39.
The other election was to fill the remainder of the term for former Sen. Thad Cochran, who retired earlier this year. Under Mississippi’s special election rules, there is simply a non-partisan, jungle primary where the top two vote getters advance to a runoff if no candidate receives 50 percent plus one.
The election featured three main candidates: Sen. Hyde-Smith, who was appointed by Gov. Phil Bryant, State Sen. Chris McDaniel, a Republican from Jones county who nearly toppled Cochran four years ago, and Mike Espy, a former Democratic Congressman and member of the Clinton cabinet.
The final vote was 42 percent for Hyde-Smith, 41 percent for Espy, and 17 percent for McDaniel. The presence of two Republicans diluted the overall GOP vote and takes away from the work Espy will have in the runoff.
When total Republican vote is highlighted, rather than top vote getter in each county, it tells a different story than a map showing Espy making inroads in a number of traditional Republican counties. In fact, the total GOP vote looks very similar to the Wicker/ Baria map. Republicans were somewhat split, but at the end of the day Democrats only received 40 or 41 percent in both elections.
Indeed, Copiah, Oktibbeha, and Yazoo counties were the only counties carried by Wicker where the GOP did not receive a majority between Hyde-Smith and McDaniel.
While trailing by just one point may appear comforting, the path to a majority is much harder for Espy. Rather than 15-20 percent of the electorate being up for grabs, it is more likely that Espy is near the Democrat ceiling when it comes to a Senate seat in Mississippi. Especially when it is a runoff on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving.
Going back to 2006, Republicans have won between 55 and 64 percent of the vote in the six Senate elections held in the state. The high point for Democrats was Ronnie Musgrove’s 45 percent in 2008. And that was with Musgrove running as a conservative (something Espy certainly is not). With Barack Obama on the top of the ballot and John McCain held to just 56 percent.
Both campaigns will work on turning out and maximizing their support in the runoff. The problem for Espy is there likely aren’t enough people to turn out. Even McDaniel himself quickly came out and endorsed Hyde-Smith, something he didn’t do in 2014. It would be wishful thinking to presume McDaniel voters are up for grabs in any significant fashion.