Election Day in Mississippi

by Jonathan Easley and Alexis Simendinger

It’s election day in Mississippi, the site of the final contest of the 2018 midterm cycle.

Republicans will have a majority in the Senate no matter the outcome of the race between Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R) and Democrat Mike Espy, but the confirmation battle over Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh proved that every vote counts in a deeply polarized upper chamber.

At a Mississippi campaign rally last night in Tupelo, President Trump sought to drive that point home, saying Hyde-Smith “stood up to the Democratic smear machine and voted ‘yes’ on Brett Kavanaugh.”

“If you don’t mind, make it not even close … don’t take any chances. A lot of people think we’re going to have a big win, but don’t take any chances…assume you have to vote.” – Trump in Tupelo

The race is closer than it probably should be in a state Trump won easily in 2016. One recent survey found Hyde-Smith with only a 5-point advantage over her challenger.

Hyde-Smith has stumbled through a series of racially-charged controversies, which the president did not go near last night. Democrats are hoping the enthusiasm that helped them flip nearly 40 House seats will continue today and deliver a monumental upset for Espy, who hopes to become the first African-American senator elected in Mississippi since Reconstruction.

The Memo: GOP fears damage in Mississippi.

The Hill: Five things to watch for in the Mississippi runoff election.

With his dual rallies in Tupelo and Biloxi, Miss., last night – Vice President Pence joined him for the second stop of the night – the president gets one final test of his political strength among his base supporters before the 2020 presidential election cycle begins in earnest.

A loss by Hyde-Smith would be perceived as a seismic weakening for Trump and Republicans, so the pressure is on.

Mississippi race by the numbers:

  • If Hyde-Smith wins, Republicans will have a 53-47 majority in the Senate, up from 51-49. If Espy wins, the GOP majority would be 52-48. Mississippi would be a huge missed opportunity for Republicans if this year’s majority expanded by just one seat in January, following a campaign cycle in which the Senate map was decidedly in Republicans’ favor.
  • The Nov. 6 election was sent to a runoff because no candidate received 50 percent the last go-round. In that contest, Hyde-Smith took 42 percent, Espy took 41 percent and Republican Chris McDaniel took 17 percent. Hyde-Smith is looking to attract the support of McDaniel voters to return to Washington.
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