STARKVILLE — The late New York Yankees catcher Yogi Berra would love this one.
The 2020 U.S. Senate race in Mississippi between Republican incumbent Cindy Hyde-Smith and Democratic challenger and former Clinton administration U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Mike Espy should seem like what it is to Mississippi voters — a case of political déjà vu.
State voters saw this race in 2018, when Hyde-Smith defeated Espy by almost 66,000 votes, 53.6 percent to 46.4 percent. In that race, Espy outraised and outspent the incumbent, $6.97 million to $5.16 million. There was another $10.3 million in outside money spent in that race.
Hyde-Smith’s 2018 campaign was bolstered by a massive campaign rally in DeSoto County, in which Republican President Donald Trump strongly endorsed her and then cut TV commercials backing her.
Voters will recall that in the runoff between Hyde-Smith and Espy, outside spending attack ads from both camps painted Hyde-Smith as an insensitive racist and Espy as a crooked public official for hire. Throughout a prior 18-year career in Mississippi politics, Hyde-Smith had never faced allegations of that nature. Espy was cleared of all criminal charges against him more than 20 years ago and has enjoyed a successful law practice since that time.
So far, in the 2020 redux of the U.S. Senate matchup, the money falls the incumbent’s way. OpenSecrets.org shows the Hyde-Smith campaign currently at $2.08 million raised and $1.20 million cash on hand. Espy shows $1.35 million raised and $680,429 cash on hand. Likewise, the reporting site documents just over $36,900 in outside spending, $30,000 of which was spent opposing Hyde-Smith from the “Americans for Freedom” 527 group.
Hyde-Smith now has more than two years of U.S. Senate seniority and seats on the Appropriations, Agriculture, Energy and Natural Resources, and Rules committees. While the circumstances have changed in that President Trump faces a tough reelection bid, she still has Trump’s strong support.
Two things remain clear at this juncture — first, it is challenging to construct a rational political model, regardless of the national outcome of the presidential election, in which Trump doesn’t carry Mississippi as he did in 2016. Second, it’s likewise difficult to construct a rational political model that shows Mississippi supporting Trump in the presidential election but not supporting Hyde-Smith in the U.S. Senate race.
But what if there is a gargantuan turnout among the state’s Black voters? Maybe those voters are inspired to elect the state’s first Black U.S. senator since Reconstruction?
In 2008, during Barack Obama’s first race for president against Republican John McCain, Mississippi produced the highest voter turnout numbers in the state’s history.
Records chronicle that 1.289 million Mississippians voted in the 2008 general election out of 1.895 million registered voters, or 68 percent. Four years later, in 2012, it was 1.285 million when Obama defeated Republican Mitt Romney.
Obama got 43 percent of the Mississippi vote in 2008 and 43.8 percent in 2012, but he still lost Mississippi by just less than 150,000 votes. The suggestion that Mike Espy is going to generate a predominantly Black Democratic voter turnout among Mississippians that rivals or bests Barack Obama in 2008 or 2012 is, at best, unlikely.
• Sid Salter is director of the Office of University Relations at Mississippi State University. Contact him at email@example.com.