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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Some Take-Aways from the U.S. Senate Run-off in Mississippi

Republican Cindy Hyde-Smith beat Democrat Mike Espy in Mississippi’s U.S. Senate run-off by a margin of 54 to 46 percent.

“Her win secures Senate Republicans a 53-seat majority for the next two years,” explains Dylan Scott at Vox. “If history is any guide, the next two years could see extreme gridlock on Capitol Hill, with even routine spending bills becoming a vicious fight between the two chambers. Senate Republicans, by holding on to the majority, will focus on what they’ve been doing for the past few months: confirming as many federal judges as possible…Now they’ll have an extra vote’s worth of wiggle room if they need to push through judicial nominees — or a Supreme Court justice — on a party-line vote.”

But, “Hyde-Smith will finish out the final two years of former Sen. Thad Cochran’s term, who retired earlier this year due to health concerns. Hyde-Smith will have to run again in 2020 to serve a full six-year term,” reports Eric Bradner at CNN Politics.

Espy did run “the state’s most competitive Democratic campaign for U.S. Senate in decades but fell short in his efforts to bring historic numbers of black voters to the polls,” note Matt Viser and David Weigel at The Washington Post. But Hyde-Smith was helped by a late injection of funds from conservative groups. Further, add Weigel and Viser,

Espy’s campaign executed its turnout strategy, running ahead of its Nov. 6 vote in nearly every county. He was on track to carry all 25 of the state’s majority-black counties, most by bigger margins than he’d won in the first round. He also cut into traditional Republican margins in some suburban counties. In DeSoto County, on the outskirts of Memphis, he improved from 34 percent in the first round to 41 percent Tuesday.

Some observations from “What Went Down In The Mississippi Senate Runoff Election,” a panel at FiveThirtyEight:

Sarah Frostenson – “…Ultimately, Espy did outperform his Nov. 6 marks, but not by enough to overcome the political landscape of a state as red as Mississippi (at least in statewide elections)…Mississippi leans about 15 points more Republicans than the country overall, according to our partisan lean metric. And Hyde-Smith is likely to end up winning by a margin in the high single digits — a sign that her campaign, which was pretty poorly run and dogged by controversies, cost her some votes. A less controversial GOP candidate likely would have won by more.”

Perry Bacon, Jr. – “The other big takeaway is the various racial controversies around Hyde-Smith probably did hurt her. A strong GOP candidate likely would have won by more. But they did not hurt her that much.”

Nathaniel Rakich – “…the Democratic overperformance might bode well for the party in next week’s runoff for Georgia secretary of state. (Laugh if you want at the obscurity of my election obsession, but it’s an important office with the power to administer elections — remember all the liberal complaints about Brian Kemp this fall?)…This should still be a single-digit race — and a solid Democratic overperformance — when all is said and done.”

Geoffrey Skelley – “Based on the turnout change in the counties that are 100 percent in, turnout as a share of the voting-eligible population might drop from 43 percent three weeks ago to about 40 percent today. That may reflect some staying power for the high-turnout midterm environment we just experienced, the ostensible competitiveness of the race and the heavy focus on the race in the media…Hyde-Smith wins, though she underperformed the GOP’s initial vote on Nov. 6, substantially in some places.”

The New York Times has list of vote totals by county, plus a county by county hover-map, which shows that the run-off’s blue counties are overwhelmingly concentrated in the western part of Mississippi.

“Mr. Espy needed a substantial turnout among black Mississippians, who made up more than a third of the voting-age population and historically sided with Democratic candidates,” notes Alan Blinder in his NYT report. “But Democrats also recognized that Mr. Espy needed to win about a quarter of the white vote.”

As Ed Kilgore concludes at New York Magazine, “Southern Democrats will continue to feel some frustration at their three strong but ultimately unsuccessful performances behind the historic statewide candidacies of African-Americans Espy, Stacey Abrams (Georgia gubernatorial nominee) and Andrew Gillum (Florida gubernatorial nominee). Political experts will intensely examine the turnout patterns in all these states to determine whether a coalition of minority and white suburban voters might revolutionize southern elections in the very near future. In the meantime, Mike Espy, who didn’t have the progressive street cred or media buzz enjoyed by Abrams and Gillum, did an admirable job of challenging the ancient race-driven status quo of Mississippi.”

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