By: Sid Salter
Mississippi Democrats showed signs of political life in recent months after years of fielding candidates in congressional elections who could fairly be described as either noble ideologues or political sacrificial lambs.
The recent victory of Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Doug Moore across the state line in Alabama fueled some Mississippi Democrats to conclude that ideological strains between Mississippi Republicans might well create openings for them in Mississippi in 2018.
Now officially past the first June primary elections, the partisan political landscape in Mississippi in the mid-term congressional elections doesn’t seem to have changed much despite the supposed influences of President Donald Trump, the so-called “#Me,Too” movement or the ongoing internecine social media wars between mainstream Republicans and the insurgent anti-establishment wing of the GOP.
Trump is still popular with the majority of Mississippi voters. Mississippians don’t endorse or approve of sexual mistreatment of women, but remain as vexed as the rest of the country about how to effectively stop it. And politically, the “#Me,Too” movement is a sword that cuts both ways.
Could Republican Roy Moore in Alabama and Democrat Al Franken be any farther apart on the political spectrum? But their political fates in the current political climate were virtually the same.
Republicans are still predicted to hold sway in both of the state’s U.S. Senate seats and in three of four U.S. House seats up for grabs in 2018.
What is different in 2018 is that Mississippi Democrats – not in every race, but overall – fielded more and better qualified candidates this time around. That was true in the Class 1 Mississippi U.S. Senate seat and it’s true in the Class II U.S. Senate race special election that won’t be decided until November.
In the Class 1 race, incumbent Republican senior U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker is widely considered to be holding a “safe” seat. His campaign has the benefit of the unequivocal support of the Trump White House, more than sufficient campaign finance resources, and an effective statewide organization.
The power of incumbency remains strong and Wicker has used it masterfully. Back to his initial U.S. Senate special election victory over Democrat Ronnie Musgrove in 2008, Wicker has been able to focus on the issues that were necessary to draw effective partisan distinctions even against well-financed and reputable Democratic opponents.
In the Class II special election, it’s important to note two things – first, Democrats have fielded a credible candidate in former Secretary of Agriculture Mike Espy. Second, the seat is still considered either a “safe” or “likely safe” Republican seat by most national political prognosticators.
In the Class II race, candidates can run as Republicans and Democrats, but it’s a free-for-all in which the winner must take 50 percent-plus one vote to win outright, or see the top two vote-getters meet in a runoff two weeks later regardless of party affiliation.
The question for Mississippi voters is which Republican they will choose in the special election – incumbent appointed Republican U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith of Brookhaven or Tea Party favorite state Sen. Chris McDaniel of Ellisville.
Espy represents the best hope Mississippi Democrats have in 2018 – and that hope rests on the belief that Mississippi Republicans are so divided in the battle between Hyde-Smith and McDaniel that Espy just might cobble together a coalition of Democrats who support him and Republicans who refuse to vote for the Republican special election survivor.
Since 1947, there have been three open U.S. Senate seats in Mississippi and Republicans have won the seats each time. The odds say history repeats itself.