GOP wins surprisingly close Senate race in Mississippi

Republicans win what had once been considered a safe Senate seat in Mississippi, fending off Democrat by single digits.

David Rosenberg ,

Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith campaigns with President Trump
Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith campaigns with President Trump

A Republican incumbent senator won a special election to the US Senate Tuesday, following a jungle primary earlier this month in Mississippi.

Cindy Hyde-Smith, Mississippi’s former Agriculture and Commerce Commissioner, had been tapped earlier this year by Governor Phil Bryant to replace Thad Cochran, who resigned his senate seat as a result of health problems.

Hyde-Smith’s appointment was temporary, however, and was followed by a special election, alongside Mississippi’s regularly scheduled US Senate election for the state’s other seat.

On November 6th, the state held the first round of voting, using the jungle primary system.

Under the Mississippi system, parties do not hold separate primary votes prior to the general election. Instead, all eligible candidates – including multiple candidates from the same party in some cases – are listed together on the general election ballot.

Party affiliation is not listed on the general election ballot, and a candidate must win an absolute majority of 50% plus one to be elected.

If no candidate wins a majority, the state holds a run-off election, in which the two top vote-getters face off.

During the general election earlier this month, Republican Hyde-Smith narrowly beat Democrat Mike Espy by less than 1% - 41.5% to 40.6% - but failed to win the seat outright, forcing the two into a runoff election.

The third and fourth-place candidates were a Republican – who pulled 16.5% - and a Democrat who won 1.4%.

On Tuesday, Hyde-Smith defeated Espy, but by a relatively narrow margin.

With 99% of precincts reporting, the incumbent senator had 53.9% of the vote to Espy’s 46.1%.

The single-digit margin is surprising both given the results of the general election, in which the two top Republican candidates won a combined 58% of the vote, and recent Senate election results in the deep-red state.

Mississippi, which voted for President Trump over Hillary Clinton in 2016 by a nearly 18-point margin, has not elected a Democrat to the US Senate since John C. Stennis won reelection in 1982. Most recent senate elections have been won by double-digit margins for Republicans.

Roger Wicker defeated David Baria this month by nearly 20 points – 58.8% to 39.1% - while Hyde-Smith’s predecessor, Thad Cochran, won by over 20 points four years ago, 59.9% to 37.9%.

Win Hyde-Smith’s victory, Republicans secured a net pickup of two seats in the US Senate this year, widening their Senate majority from 51 seats to 53 seats, with 47 Democrats and 2 independents who caucus with the Democrats.