The Mississippi US Senate Special Runoff 2018 was a hard-fought contest, but what really happened?
On the surface, the scoreboard being the only thing that actually matters, Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R) won. Beneath the bottom line, however, the numbers shifted out from under her in many counties to her Democratic challenger, Mike Espy.
Take a deeper dive into the Mississippi Senate Special Election, the numbers, and what it means, if anything.
Mississippi US Senate Special Runoff 2018: Results
Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R) won the special election to serve the remainder of Thad Cochran’s term. She will face her next election in 2020 for a full six-year term.
Mississippi US Senate Special Runoff 2018: Swing By County
Some of the counties in which Mike Espy “broke the swingometer,” which is to say saw swings of 16 percent or more, include Bolivar, Hinds, Tunica, and Washington. Though he lost Rankin County, forming the eastern Jackson suburbs, he scored a large increase in vote share.
Hyde-Smith posted large swings in her favor in Itawamba, Prentiss, and Tishomingo Counties, with the northeast strong for her in general.
Espy carried Hinds County, containing the capital city of Jackson as well as Warren County (Vicksburg). Hyde-Smith was victorious in Lee County (Tupelo), Forrest County (Hattiesburg), and Harrison County (Biloxi).
Mississippi US Senate Special Runoff 2018: Counties Flipped
Mike Espy won eight counties that Thad Cochran carried in 2014, while Hyde-Smith won two that the Democrats carried in that election. Four of these Espy counties were also carried by Donald Trump in 2016; these are Chickasaw, Lowndes, Panola, and Warren Counties. Barack Obama carried Chickasaw, Panola, and Warren in 2012.
Espy ran about six points ahead of Hillary Clinton in this run, while Hyde-Smith was about four points behind Trump’s mark.
Mississippi US Senate Special Runoff 2018: Analysis
The Mississippi Senate runoff results probably do not mean much in the grand scheme of things as far as any shift in the political poles of the Magnolia State. Cindy Hyde-Smith was a weak candidate as far as Mississippi Republicans go, though not as weak as Roy Moore was in Alabama. As Democrats in Alabama may expect in 2020, as long as the Republicans there generate a decent candidate, Doug Jones going to be the underdog. Had Espy squeaked out a win in the same fashion, he would have also been the 2020 underdog to a less controversial Republican, in a year when Trump will be on the ballot.
Hyde-Smith came into the election with her own baggage and the result is more a commentary on her candidacy than any national big picture. Mississippi will be solid red again on Election Night 2020 at the top of the ticket as well as most of the way down.
There is no question that Mike Espy tapped into African-American votes to get as close as he did, in a runoff that had a much higher turnout than the midterm Senate race in 2014. (Link: ABC News) African-Americans make up 37 percent of Mississippi’s population, and they vote in overwhelming numbers for Democrats here and across the country. In many of the counties in which Espy saw big swings, there is an African-American majority. This is particularly true along the Mississippi Delta and in Hinds County, home to Jackson.
For what it’s worth, Hyde-Smith had heavy swings in her direction in northeastern Mississippi. Travis Childers (D), who ran against Thad Cochran (R) in 2014, was previously a congressman from this region. Without their local son on the ballot, this area broke the swingometer going to the GOP.
One would think that with the African-American population being what it is in Mississippi, that is to say the highest percentage of any state in the country, Democrats should be more competitive here. Other areas of the state, however, are very red. This runoff was a stress test for how well the GOP could hold up here with a controversial candidate in the face of increased African-American turnout. The takeaway is that Democrats cannot rely just on African-American votes to win in Mississippi; they need white votes as well, and they do not get them. Until they do, Republicans will continue their dominance in Mississippi.