By Jim EllisNov. 27, 2018 — The 2018 election cycle’s final contest comes today in Mississippi. The special run-off campaign between appointed Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R) and former US Agriculture Secretary and ex-Mississippi congressman, Mike Espy (D), will decide if the 116th Congress will feature a Senate that brandishes a 53-47 Republican majority or a lesser 52-48.
The run-off occurs because no candidate received an absolute majority in the Nov. 6 special jungle primary. The special election is necessary because Sen. Thad Cochran (R) resigned for health reasons in the middle of his final term in office, thus necessitating an appointed replacement and this confirming electoral vote for the winner to serve the balance of the term. Whether Sen. Hyde-Smith or Espy wins today, there will be another election in the regular 2020 cycle for the full six-year term.
In the first vote, Sen. Hyde-Smith placed first, but barely, with a 41.5 percent plurality compared to Espy’s 40.6 percent, a difference of 8,284 votes from more than 883,600 ballots cast. The third-place finisher, Tea Party activist state Sen. Chris McDaniel (R-Ellisville), captured the remaining 16.4 percent with Independent Tobey Bartee picking up the final 1.4 percent. Once the run-off began, Sen. McDaniel announced his support of Sen. Hyde-Smith, which should go a long way toward unifying her Republican base.
Controversy in this run-off campaign arose when Hyde-Smith made several unforced errors. Making statements about wanting to be present at a lynching, visiting a Confederate Museum where she donned a uniform, and now under attack for attending what was commonly referred to as a “segregation academy” for high school has put the appointed senator clearly on the defensive.