BREAKING NEWS One person injured in Columbus shooting Full Story
STREAMING NOW: Watch Now

Cindy Hyde-Smith still favored in Mississippi Senate runoff despite controversies

The Mississippi Senate runoff was expected to be a quiet finale to the 2018 election season but instead has ...

Posted: Nov 26, 2018 5:41 PM
Updated: Nov 26, 2018 5:41 PM

The Mississippi Senate runoff was expected to be a quiet finale to the 2018 election season but instead has turned into a nationally watched affair.

Republican Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith's comments about attending a "public hanging," along with a series of other controversies, have led to critical media coverage and several companies publicly disavowing her.

African Americans

Cindy Hyde-Smith

Continents and regions

Demographic groups

Elections (by type)

Elections and campaigns

Ethics

Government and public administration

Government organizations - US

Mike Espy

Minority and ethnic groups

Mississippi

North America

Political Figures - US

Political organizations

Politics

Population and demographics

Society

Southeastern United States

The Americas

United States

US Congress

US Democratic Party

US Federal elections

US political parties

US Senate

US Senate elections

Voters and voting

But while her statements and actions may make Tuesday's special Senate election a closer affair than it might otherwise have been, make no mistake: she is a heavy favorite against Democrat Mike Espy.

Mississippi is as red as they come. It hasn't voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since Jimmy Carter won the state in 1976. The last Democrat elected to the Senate was John Stennis in 1982. The last Democrat elected governor was Ronnie Musgrove in 1999.

Mississippi's redness showed no sign of abating when voters went to the polls earlier this month. Republicans Hyde-Smith and Chris McDaniel combined for 58% of the vote in the jungle primary, while Democrats Tobey Bartee and Espy combined for 42%. That doesn't look very different from Republican President Donald Trump's 18-point 2016 victory in the state.

It shouldn't be too surprising that there wasn't much movement off the 2016 baseline. Mississippi Democrats seem to have a low ceiling in Senate elections. No Democrat has come closer than 8 points to a Republican in the last 30 years. Only two Democrats have come within single digits.

Democrats' inability to come close is in large part because they can't win over white voters in the state. Mississippi voters are highly polarized along racial lines. According to the 2018 exit poll, Bartee and Espy combined won only 16% of the white vote in the first round of the special election. They took 94% of the black vote.

The problem for Democrats is this a pattern seen over and over again. Voters just don't shift that much in the state. In the closest Senate race in the state of the last 20 years, Musgrove earned 18% of the white vote and 92% of the black vote in the 2008 special Senate election. He lost overall by 10 points.

Put another way, Espy needs to break the mold in some way. He can, for instance, win over more white voters than the traditional Mississippi Democrat does. Even if you assume Hyde-Smith's recent comments allow Espy to capture 98% of the black vote, he'll need to win north of 22% of the white vote to emerge victorious given traditional turnout patterns.

There's not much of a sign that will happen. After proportionally allocating undecideds, Espy is averaging only around 16% to 17% of the white vote in polling for the runoff over the last few months.

Speaking of that polling, it's been limited but consistent. Hyde-Smith has averaged a low double-digit lead.

Still, there just hasn't been that much polling. Only one public poll was taken and released in the final 21 days of the campaign. (More polls were taken before that.) Based on Senate elections since 1998, the true margin of error (i.e. 95% confidence interval) is +/- 13 points for any one poll in this final 21-day period. That means this race is technically within the margin of error.

We're also talking about a special election the Tuesday after Thanksgiving. This is not the type of election most pollsters are used to polling, or the type of election for which there is a lot of historical precedent. The inability to model off past elections is why special Senate election polling has historically been less accurate than for other Senate elections.

Indeed, Espy's best hope is for turnout patterns to change from the first round. There is precedent for this. The percentage of African-Americans as part of the electorate rose between the first round and runoff in the last two midterm Senate runoffs in next door Louisiana. We also saw a spike in black turnout in the Alabama special Senate election last year, which was also not held on Election Day. Because of Mississippi's highly polarized racial voting patterns, Hyde-Smith's margin shrinks more than a point for every extra percentage of the electorate black voters makeup.

Of course, this is still Mississippi. Espy will need to win over a significantly larger percentage of white voters than he did in round one, even if turnout patterns change. I'm unaware of any polling, public or private, to suggest that is likely.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 91935

Reported Deaths: 2780
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds6903153
DeSoto532153
Harrison368771
Jackson334367
Madison318086
Rankin313473
Lee254066
Jones236078
Forrest231069
Washington215671
Lafayette203039
Lauderdale1984123
Bolivar177465
Oktibbeha173749
Lamar156633
Neshoba1524103
Panola140926
Sunflower138543
Lowndes138457
Warren136650
Leflore134380
Pontotoc120416
Pike120148
Monroe117665
Scott115925
Copiah115433
Coahoma110927
Holmes108458
Marshall106714
Grenada104535
Lincoln104453
Yazoo103429
Simpson100142
Union96524
Tate94537
Leake93535
Adams89135
Wayne87121
Pearl River84850
Marion83633
Covington79321
Prentiss78617
Alcorn75310
Newton74722
Itawamba74121
George73913
Tallahatchie73418
Winston71919
Tishomingo65035
Attala63625
Chickasaw63524
Tippah63516
Walthall58925
Clay56216
Hancock55420
Noxubee54015
Jasper53615
Clarke52538
Smith51714
Calhoun50612
Tunica47213
Montgomery45020
Claiborne44916
Lawrence42212
Yalobusha41314
Perry39016
Humphreys36915
Quitman3625
Stone34611
Greene33516
Webster32813
Jefferson Davis32211
Carroll30812
Amite30710
Wilkinson30117
Kemper28515
Sharkey25812
Jefferson2359
Benton2151
Franklin1863
Choctaw1775
Issaquena1033
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 128097

Reported Deaths: 2264
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson18648332
Mobile12949288
Montgomery8560170
Madison736573
Tuscaloosa7015112
Lee558259
Shelby550149
Baldwin502148
Marshall376342
Etowah326344
Calhoun321139
Morgan312925
Houston260621
Elmore247547
DeKalb230119
St. Clair218134
Walker217780
Talladega199925
Limestone191919
Cullman180017
Franklin172728
Dallas172526
Russell16912
Autauga162424
Lauderdale159231
Colbert157224
Escambia154324
Blount150413
Jackson146610
Chilton143325
Dale128042
Covington127027
Coffee12388
Pike11329
Tallapoosa112483
Chambers110642
Clarke104417
Marion91428
Butler90238
Barbour8097
Marengo69319
Winston68512
Lowndes64327
Pickens62214
Bibb6179
Hale60828
Bullock58514
Randolph58512
Lawrence57620
Monroe5708
Washington54513
Geneva5404
Perry5356
Wilcox52911
Cherokee52816
Clay5187
Conecuh51611
Crenshaw51531
Macon46619
Henry4524
Sumter41719
Fayette4128
Choctaw34212
Lamar3302
Cleburne3116
Greene29915
Coosa1573
Out of AL00
Unassigned00
Tupelo
Clear
64° wxIcon
Hi: 82° Lo: 58°
Feels Like: 64°
Columbus
Clear
61° wxIcon
Hi: 84° Lo: 60°
Feels Like: 61°
Oxford
Clear
63° wxIcon
Hi: 81° Lo: 55°
Feels Like: 63°
Starkville
Clear
61° wxIcon
Hi: 82° Lo: 58°
Feels Like: 61°
WTVA Radar
WTVA Temperatures
WTVA Severe Weather