Posted on November 20, 2018

Mississippi Senate Race Devolves into Racial Melee

Daniel Strauss, Politico, November 20, 2018

Republicans hoped to spend the final days of the special election in Mississippi coronating Cindy Hyde-Smith as the first woman to represent the state in the Senate.

Instead, the race has become a bare-knuckle brawl infused with ugly racial politics.

Hyde-Smith’s comments about attending a public hanging and suppressing liberal votes — remarks she maintained were made in jest — have upended a contest that a week ago was seen as a mere formality for the GOP. Democrats and allied outside groups have seized on Hyde Smith’s musings to spur black voters to the polls and paint her as an embarrassment to the state. They’re trying to crack open a narrow path for Democrat Mike Espy — a Cabinet secretary under Bill Clinton who would be the first African-American to represent Mississippi in the Senate since Reconstruction — as a viable alternative.

The California-based PowerPACPlus political action committee released an ad featuring images of Hyde-Smith and hanged black men in nooses. The Black Voters Matter Fund, a get-out-the-vote group, has been organizing in the state to boost Espy. The Senate Majority PAC, a pro-Democratic Senate super PAC, is pouring $500,000 into the state to help Espy.


“Our hope is that contrary to popular belief, instead of turnout going down in this runoff, that black turnout will actually go up,” added Black Voters Matter Fund co-founder Cliff Albright.


Democrats are working to keep Hyde-Smith’s comments in the spotlight while Espy stays mostly above the fray, campaigning on pocketbook issues like health care and college affordability. Hyde-Smith is the undisputed favorite to prevail in the Nov. 27 runoff, but the GOP’s stunning loss in a special election for Senate last year showed nothing is guaranteed.

Hyde-Smith’s comments — she was caught on video telling a supporter she’d be in the “front row” of a public hanging if he invited her, and that perhaps Mississippi should make it harder for “liberal folks” to vote — are expected to be front and center Tuesday during the only debate between Espy and Hyde-Smith. {snip}


Democrats estimate that Espy needs at least a quarter of white voters to back him, plus high turnout among African-American voters, to win the race. But according to voter survey data during the first round of voting on Nov. 6, Hyde-Smith had 57 percent of the white vote vs. 21 percent for Espy and 18 percent for McDaniel. Among black voters, Espy had 83 percent backing, while Hyde-Smith received 8 percent and McDaniel had 3 percent. Those figures were based on an analysis by Fox News conducted in partnership with The Associated Press.

The Democratic brigade isn’t limited to outside groups. In recent days, some of the party’s most popular surrogates to the black community have moved to help Espy. Over the weekend, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) campaigned for Espy in Mississippi. Former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu did the same. Next up was Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), who came to the state on Monday, the same day former Vice President Joe Biden endorsed Espy. All of those figures are mulling presidential bids in 2020.


Harris, during her swing through the state, said “racism, anti-semitism, homophobia, these issues are real in this country. … Let’s speak those truths so we can deal with that.”


Republicans remain bullish on the race, but private polling has shown the margin between Espy and Hyde-Smith shrinking.

Hyde-Smith’s comments, Trump’s visit and the recent visits by Democrats popular among African-Americans have both Republicans and Democrats expecting a higher turnout than is typically seen in a special election.