Barring yet another bizarre recount scenario, we should know the final makeup of the Senate for the next two years some time this evening. If Cindy Hyde-Smith delivers the expected victory in Mississippi’s run-off election today, the GOP will hold a 53-47 margin in the upper chamber. But is the race even in doubt at this point? The folks at The Hill either believe it could be or would at least like you to think so. Since there’s really not much left to do until they begin tabulating the results, let’s look at the factors which might – at least in theory – give Democrat Mike Espy a path to victory.
Republicans are scrambling to keep a Mississippi Senate seat in Tuesday’s runoff election after a series of controversial gaffes by embattled Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith has threatened her prospects in the deep-red state.
Hyde-Smith faces former Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy (D), who’s vying to become Mississippi’s first black senator since Reconstruction in the last remaining race this campaign cycle.
Democrats are eyeing another upset win in the Deep South after a surprising victory in Alabama’s Senate special election last year.
President Trump traveled to Mississippi on the eve of the runoff in a last-minute effort to bolster Hyde-Smith, whose victory would expand Republicans’ Senate majority to 53-47.
The first item on the list is the series of “gaffes” that Hyde-Smith has made on the campaign trail. The most common one was her joke about being “in the front row” when a supporter talked about inviting her to a “public hanging.” Other incidents include the revelation of old pictures where she posed wearing confederate military gear at a museum. But is that actually going to hurt her chances? This is Mississippi we’re talking about, not to put too fine of a point on it. Color me dubious on that score.
Could supporters of Chris McDaniel boycott Hyde-Smith as the article from The Hill suggests? McDaniel was arguably the more conservative candidate in the November 6th election. They may not be happy that their guy didn’t win, but they also seem the least likely to risk the seat going to Espy.
How about turnout? There’s the big question in my opinion. Any time turnout in an election falls seriously below typical participation levels, anything can happen. This race is happening the week after Thanksgiving when most people have gratefully put politics behind them and are gearing up for Christmas. But with the generic ballot advantage Republicans enjoy in the state, the Democrats would have to rally near-presidential election cycle numbers while the GOP base stayed home eating leftovers. It’s a stretch, to say the least.
If any of these factors are posing a serious threat to the GOP today, it’s not showing up in the polling. The last three polls tracked by Real Clear Politics have Hyde-Smith up by 10, 14 and 12. In the survey where she does the worst, she’s still above 50. We’re in a weird year for political shakeups to be sure, but there are still limits. In reality, Hyde-Smith should be winning this race by at least 20. Given the current lay of the land, she’s not going to do as well but still looks to deliver a ten point margin of victory. And ten points isn’t bad no matter where you’re running.
Prediction? Most of these debates over the race are intended to either maximize Democratic turnout or just drive web traffic. (Okay… probably both.) But when the dust settles, I think Hyde-Smith winds up with something close to a 54-46 win. If she somehow loses, I’ll be back here tomorrow morning to eat my fedora.