By Jim EllisMarch 23, 2018 — Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant (R) at an event in the new Senator-designee’s home community of Brookhaven, a town of 12,000-plus people located due south of Jackson on Interstate 55, announced that Agriculture & Commerce Commissioner Cindy Hyde-Smith (R) will officially replace retiring Sen. Thad Cochran (R). The move had been expected since Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves (R) took his name out of consideration for the appointment. As has been known for just over two weeks, the 40-year veteran senator will resign on or around April 1 because of health problems.
Late last week, Gov. Bryant said he would make the appointment before Sen. Cochran officially departs to give his choice more time to prepare for an election campaign that will occur during the regular cycle. All candidates will be listed on the Nov. 6 ballot, and the top two finishers, regardless of political party affiliation, will advance to a Nov. 27 run-off election if no one secures majority support.
State Sen. Chris McDaniel (R-Ellisville), who came within 1,800 votes of denying Sen. Cochran re-nomination in 2014, has already announced that he will run for the seat and wasted no time in attacking Hyde-Smith. Former US Agriculture Secretary and ex-Mississippi Democratic Congressman Mike Espy declared his candidacy upon Sen. Cochran making public his plans to retire.
McDaniel was originally challenging Sen. Roger Wicker (R), whose seat is in-cycle this year, but quickly transitioned into the special election once Sen. Cochran decided to resign. McDaniel has already reportedly written President Trump a letter asking him not to support Hyde-Smith because she is a former Democrat.
Cindy Hyde-Smith was elected as a Democrat to the Mississippi Senate in 1999 and served three full terms. During her tenure, she became chairman of the Senate’s Agriculture Committee. Changing parties and professing her life-long conservative ideals, she ran for Agriculture & Commerce Commissioner in 2011, winning the Republican primary with 53 percent of the vote before scoring a 57-41 percent victory in the general election. She was re-elected in 2015 with 61 percent of the vote and has earned the reputation of being a strong campaigner.
Hyde-Smith will be the first-ever woman to represent Mississippi in Congress. Now, Vermont becomes the only state never to have elected (or appointed) a female to federal office.
Reports are coming from Washington that an unnamed White House aide claims President Trump will not endorse or campaign for Hyde-Smith because of her former Democratic Party affiliation, and being fearful that she will lose the seat in the ensuing election. Trump has not made any comment about the announced appointment, however. Gov. Bryant responded confidently that he can persuade the president to back the state’s new interim senator.
Leading Republican statewide officials, state legislators, and former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) all expressed support for Hyde-Smith as she prepares to accept her new position.
McDaniel’s political strategy will clearly be to rally the most conservative of Mississippi voters — those who supported him against Sen. Cochran — and force a run-off. Ideally, from McDaniel’s perspective, he and Espy would advance because the partisan advantage would be in his favor, but this scenario means denying the appointed senator even a run-off spot. Assuming Espy will be the lone major Democrat in the race, the chances of him coalescing the party vote and advancing to the secondary election are high.
Obviously, the Hyde-Smith campaign will attempt to win outright in November, which will be a difficult task when considering that both McDaniel and Espy will have significantly large support bases.
While Sen. Wicker is now primed to coast to re-nomination and re-election because of McDaniel switching campaigns, the Mississippi special Senate race will likely draw more than its share of national attention and resources.