By Jim EllisJan. 17, 2020 — Two more states closed their candidate filing periods as primary slates in both Mississippi and Kentucky have now been determined.
Mississippi voters will cast ballots on March 10 with a run-off election on March 31 if no candidate receives 50 percent support in a partisan primary.
Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R) stands for election to a full term this year after winning the 2018 special election. While it looked like the senator would receive a Republican primary challenge this year, the battle did not materialize, and she is unopposed as the GOP standard bearer. Josh Randle, the former president of the Miss America Organization, had filed an exploratory committee for a senatorial run, but apparently the research done as part of that process did not yield him a reasonable victory path. Therefore, Randle chose to take a pass on the challenge.
This means we will see a re-match between Sen. Hyde-Smith and former US Agriculture secretary and ex-Mississippi congressman, Mike Espy (D). The two battled in the special election, and Hyde-Smith scored a 54-46 percent victory in a race that appeared more competitive than the final result. Espy has two Democratic challengers, but it is doubtful that either can mount a serious offensive against the former federal official and Clinton Administration cabinet member.
All four Mississippi US House members are heavy favorites for re-election. Only Rep. Trent Kelly (R-Saltillo/Tupelo) is unopposed in his primary. Both Reps. Bennie Thompson (D-Bolton/Mississippi Delta) and freshman Michael Guest (R-Brandon/ Jackson) have weak primary opponents and each have a safe seat for the general election.
Five-term Rep. Steven Palazzo (R-Biloxi) has no Democratic opponent for the fall but has drawn three Republican challengers including Biloxi City Council President Robert Deming. Should Deming make a credible run, the presence of the other two candidates could conceivably keep Rep. Palazzo under the 50 percent mark.
Rep. Palazzo first came to Congress in 2010, defeating then-incumbent Democrat Gene Taylor who had served 22 years in the House before losing a decade ago. In 2012, Rep. Palazzo then faced Taylor and three others in the Republican primary after the former incumbent changed parties. That year, Palazzo only posted a 50.5 percent re-nomination victory. Since that time, he has had no major Republican challenge.
Kentucky voters will choose their nominees in a plurality election on May 19. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell faces seven opponents in the Republican primary but will have little trouble winning re-nomination for a seventh term. Ten Democrats also filed, but the eventual nominee will almost assuredly be retired Marine Corps helicopter pilot and 2018 6th District congressional candidate Amy McGrath.
Heavy money will be spent on both sides, and the polling is likely to get reasonably tight until the end when Sen. McConnell will pull away and win easily. At least, this has been the pattern in his last two elections.
All but Reps. James Comer (R-Tompkinsville) and John Yarmuth (D-Louisville) have primary challengers, but only the contest involving Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Garrison/ Covington) appears potentially serious. None of the races for the general election appear competitive, including in the 6th District where Rep. Andy Barr (R-Lexington) fought off an $8.6 million challenge from McGrath two years ago to win 51-48 percent.
Rep. Massie’s Republican challenger is Covington attorney Thomas McMurtry, who was part of the legal team that reached a successful defamation lawsuit settlement with CNN over its treatment of Kentucky student Nicholas Sandmann. You’ll remember Sandmann came to Washington with other students to participate in the March for Life; his mis-characterized confrontation with an Omaha Tribe elder became a national news story.
McMurtry, in his announcement statement, said, “We need someone who is going to say yes to policies that support better paying jobs, stand with President Trump to secure our border, and vote to repeal Obamacare.” Rep. Massie, who often aligns himself with the Freedom Caucus, sometimes votes against the party position if he feels the policy in question is not conservative enough.
Should McMurtry be able to generate significant financial support in a short time, this could be an interesting primary. Rep. Massie, first elected in 2012, has not faced Republican primary competition since his original campaign.