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Decision ’18: U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith wins special election runoff in Mississippi

Hyde-Smith, appointed to the seat in April, defeats Democrat Mike Espy

JACKSON, Mississippi (CFP) — After a racially charged three-week runoff campaign, Republican U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith has held on to her seat in Mississippi, defeating Democrat Mike Espy in the nation’s last remaining Senate contest.

U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith

With Hyde-Smith’s win, Republicans will hold 53 seats in the next Senate, to 45 for Democrats and two independents who caucus with the Democrats.

Hyde-Smith took 54 percent in the November 27 vote to 46 percent for Espy, a former congressman who was trying to make a return to politics after a 20-year absence. She is the first woman ever elected to the Senate from the Magnolia State.

“The reason we won is because Mississippians know me and they know my heart,” Hyde-Smith told supporters in Jackson. “This victory, it’s about our conservative values.”

In his concession speech at the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum in Jackson, Espy told supports that his showing — the best by a Democrat in a Senate race in the state in 30 years — was “the beginning, not the end” of efforts to change Mississippi’s politics.

“When this many people show up, when this many people stand up, when this many people speak up, it is not a loss. It is a moment,” he said.

Hyde-Smith and Espy were facing in a special election to fill the remaining two years of the term of Republican Thad Cochran, the Mississippi icon who resigned in April due to ill health. She was appointed by Governor Phil Bryant to serve in the Senate temporarily until voters picked a permanent replacement in the special election.

During both the primary and special election, Hyde-Smith enjoyed the support of President Donald Trump, who tweeted on her behalf and made two appearances in the state on the day before the runoff vote.

Hyde-Smith, 59, from Brookhaven, was Mississippi’s agriculture commissioner until being appointed to the Senate. She was originally elected to the state Senate in 2000 as a Democrat but switched parties in 2010.

Espy, 64, from Jackson, served three terms in the U.S. House before being picked by President Bill Clinton as agriculture secretary in 1993.

During the first round of voting November 6, Hyde-Smith and Espy tied at 41 percent, with another Republican in the race, State Senator Chris McDaniel, coming in third.

Given the state’s overwhelming Republican tilt, Hyde-Smith was seen as a prohibitive favorite in the runoff. Indeed, McDaniel, who nearly beat Cochran in 2014, was seen as the biggest hurdle to her continued tenure in the Senate. However, she became ensnared in a series of controversies during the runoff campaign that gave Democrats hope for an upset.

Five days after the first election, a video surfaced in which Hyde-Smith is heard telling a supporter that if he invited her to a public hanging, she would be in the front row. She insisted the remark was a joke, but her critics charged it was a racially insensitive remark to make in a state with a history of lynchings of African-Americans.

During their only campaign debate, Hyde-Smith apologized “to anyone who was offended by my comments,” insisting there was “no ill will” and that her record as senator and agriculture commissioner shows she harbors no racial animus.

“This comment was twisted, and it was turned into a weapon to be used against me — a political weapon used for nothing but personal, political gain by my opponent,” she said.

Another video surfaced November 15 in which Hyde-Smith says it would be a “great idea” to make it more difficult for liberals to vote, which her campaign insisted was a joke made to supporters and not advocacy of voter suppression.

Then a week before the runoff, news organizations began reporting on a photo posted in 2014 on Hyde-Smith’s Facebook account, where she is seen donning a Confederate cap and carrying a rifle while visiting Jefferson Davis’s home in Biloxi.

The Jackson Free Press also reported that Hyde-Smith had attended a high school in the 1970s originally founded to allow white parents to avoid sending their children to segregated schools.

Hyde-Smith’s campaign accused news organizations of practicing “gotcha” journalism in an attempt to paint her as a racist. But the controversies put race front and center in the campaign, in the state with the largest African-American population in the country.

The election results illustrated those racial divisions. Espy easily carried Jackson and the majority African-American counties in the Mississippi Delta; Hyde-Smith won lopsided victories in majority white areas — up to 80 percent in some counties in the northeastern and southeastern corners of the state.

With Hyde-Smith’s victory, Republicans will hold 24 out of the 28 Senate seats in the South, to just four Democrats — Mark Warner and Tim Kaine in Virginia, Joe Manchin in West Virginia, and Doug Jones in Alabama.

Only one Senate seat changed hands in 2018 — in Florida, where Republican Governor Rick Scott defeated the Democratic incumbent, Bill Nelson.

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RACE CALLED: U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith re-elected in Mississippi; REP HOLD

Decision 18: Final U.S. Senate race will be decided in Mississippi Tuesday

Republican U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith tries to withstand controversies dogging her during the runoff with Democrat Mike Espy

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com

JACKSON, Mississippi (CFP) — In the three weeks since the first round of voting in Mississippi’s special U.S. Senate election, Republican Cindy Hyde-Smith has faced a barrage of negative headlines in the national media and apologized for making a joke about attending a public hanging.

Cindy Hyde-Smith in 2014 Facebook photo at Beauvoir, Jefferson Davis’s home

And in a world where nothing on the internet ever goes away, a Facebook photo surfaced of Hyde-Smith — during a visit to the home of Jefferson Davis — wearing a Confederate cap, holding a rifle and calling the tableau “Mississippi history at its best.”

All of this was too much for Wal-Mart, which asked for its campaign contribution back.

But the question to be answered in Tuesday’s runoff is, will any of that be enough to allow her Democratic African-American opponent, Mike Espy, to defeat her in a bright red state where a Democrat hasn’t won a Senate race in 36 years?

Or to overcome very visible support from President Donald Trump, who is making visits to Tupelo and Biloxi on election eve to rally the base for Hyde-Smith?

Hyde-Smith is facing Espy in a special election to fill the remaining two years of the term of Republican Thad Cochran, the Mississippi icon who resigned in April due to ill health. She was appointed by Governor Phil Bryant to serve in the Senate temporarily until voters pick a permanent replacement in the special election.

Hyde-Smith, 59, from Brookhaven, was Mississippi’s agriculture commissioner until being appointed to the Senate. She was originally elected to the state Senate in 2000 as a Democrat but switched parties in 2010.

Former Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy

Espy, 64, from Jackson, served three terms in the U.S. House before being picked by President Bill Clinton as agriculture secretary in 1993. He resigned in 1994 amid allegations that he had received improper gifts. He was later acquitted of federal corruption charges.

During the first round of voting November 6, Hyde-Smith and Espy tied at 41 percent, with another Republican in the race, State Senator Chris McDaniel, coming in third.

Given the overwhelming Republican tilt of the Magnolia State, Hyde-Smith was seen as a prohibitive favorite in the runoff. Indeed, McDaniel, who nearly beat Cochran in 2014, was seen as the biggest hurdle to her continued tenure in the Senate.

However, a series of controversies that have dogged her since the first round of voting have given Democrats hope that they might replicate the success they had in Alabama in 2017, when Democrat Doug Jones defeated Republican Roy Moore amid allegations of sexual impropriety.

First, five days after the election, a video surfaced in which Hyde-Smith is heard telling a supporter that if he invited her to a public hanging, she would be in the front row. She insisted the remark was a joke, but her critics charged it was a racially insensitive remark to make in a state with a history of lynchings of African-Americans.

During their only campaign debate, Hyde-Smith apologized “to anyone who was offended by my comments,” insisting there was “no ill will” and that her record as senator and agriculture commissioner shows she harbors no racial animus.

“This comment was twisted, and it was turned into a weapon to be used against me — a political weapon used for nothing but personal, political gain by my opponent,” she said.

Another video surfaced November 15 in which Hyde-Smith says it would be a “great idea” to make it more difficult for liberals to vote, which her campaign insisted was a joke made to supporters and not advocacy of voter suppression.

Then a week before the runoff, news organizations began reporting a photo posted in 2014 on Hyde-Smith’s Facebook account, where she is donning a Confederate cap and carrying a rifle at Davis’s home in Biloxi.

The caption read: “I enjoyed my tour of Beauvoir. The Jefferson Davis Home and Presidential Library located in Biloxi. This is a must see. Currently on display are artifacts connected to the daily life of the Confederate Soldier including weapons. Mississippi history at its best!”

Her campaign did not offer any comment in the photo. But a spokeswoman pushed back hard when the Jackson Free Press reported that Hyde-Smith had attended a high school in the 1970s originally founded to allow white parents to avoid sending their children to segregated schools. The story included photos of a teenage Hyde-Smith posing with her cheerleading pom-poms.

“In their latest attempt to help Mike Espy, the gotcha liberal media has taken leave of their senses,” said spokeswoman Melissa Scallan. “They have stooped to a new low, attacking her entire family and trying to destroy her personally instead of focusing on the clear differences on the issues between Cindy Hyde-Smith and her far-left opponent.”

What won’t be clear until Tuesday is how much any of these controversies will affect the outcome of this race. Many white Mississippians of Hyde-Smith’s generation attended so-called “segregation academies” when they were young. And wearing a Confederate cap has a different connotation in a place where the state flag still contains the Confederate battle emblem than it does in media and political circles in Washington or New York.

Also, none of the controversies dogging Hyde-Smith comes anywhere close to the situation in Alabama, where Moore was accused of sexual misconduct with underage girls, which he denied.

Mississippi has the largest percentage of African-American residents of any state, 37 percent. So the result of the runoff will likely hinge on the turnout among African-American voters, who are expected to go Democratic in large numbers.

If African-Americans make up 30 percent of the electorate Tuesday, as they did in the first round of voting, Espy would need about a third of the white vote to get to a majority. If they make up 35 percent, he would need about a quarter of the white vote.

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Election Preview: Four Southern U.S. Senate races are key in battle for control

Republicans are defending seats in Texas and Tennessee; Democrats in Florida and West Virginia

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

(CFP) — With the balance of power in the U.S. Senate hanging in the balance, voters in four Southern states will decide hotly contested races in Tuesday’s midterm elections.

Republicans are defending seats in Texas and Tennessee that have turned out to be much more competitive than expected in two very Republican states. Meanwhile, Democratic incumbents are defending turf in Florida and West Virginia, states which President Donald Trump carried in 2016.

Another Senate seat is up in Virginia, where Democratic U.S. Senator Tim Kaine is favored to win re-election. Both seats are up this year in Mississippi, and Republican candidates are favored to hold both.

In Texas, Republican U.S. Senator Ted Cruz is seeking a second term against Democratic U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, a race in which the challenger has sparked the imagination of Democratic activists around the country.

Cruz, who came in second to Trump in the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, was heavily favored for re-election at the beginning of 2018. But O’Rourke — trying to take advantage of a changing political electorate in fast-growing Texas, including more younger and Latino voters — has made the race competitive, even though Texas hasn’t elected a Democrat to the Senate in 30 years.

O’Rouke has raised more than $70 million for the race, the largest haul of any Senate candidate this cycle, according to Federal Election Commission records. Cruz has raised $40 million.

Despite Cruz’s often contentious relationship with Trump during the 2016 presidential primaries, which famously included Trump dubbing him “Lyin’ Ted,” the president has gone all out for Cruz in this race, even traveling to Houston for a campaign rally.

In Tennessee, Republican U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn is vying with former Democratic Governor Phil Bredesen for a seat which opened after the retirement of U.S. Senator Bob Corker, one of Trump’s strongest critics in Congress.

After first rebuffing calls for him to run after Corker announced he was leaving the Senate, Bredesen changed course last December and jumped into the race, giving Volunteer State Democrats a shot at capturing the seat behind the candidacy of a popular two-term moderate.

But Blackburn has fought back by trying to tie Bredesen to national Democratic leaders who are unpopular in Tennessee, in particular Hillary Clinton and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York.

Republicans currently have  a slim one-vote majority in the Senate. However, because Democrats are defending more seats this cycle than Republicans, it is unlikely they can capture a Senate majority — and depose Kentucky’s Mitch McConnell as Senate majority leader — without winning in either Texas and Tennessee.

In Florida, Democratic U.S. Senator Bill Nelson is facing off against Republican Governor Rick Scott, who has served as the Sunshine State’s chief executive for the past eight years.

Nelson, who first arrived in Congress during the Carter administration, is a proven vote-getter seeking his fourth term. Scott’s two wins for governor were narrow, although his approval ratings have ticked up during the final year of his administration.

Florida is more evenly divided than either Texas or Tennessee, generally sending one senator from each party to Washington since the 1980s. Trump’s win in Florida in 2016 was by a single point, compared to a 9-point win in Texas and a 26-point win in Tennessee.

In West Virginia, Democratic U.S. Senator Joe Manchin was seen as particularly vulnerable given Trump’s 40-point win in the Mountaineer State. But Machin kept himself in contention by avoiding criticism of the president and supporting him on a number of high-profile issues, including both of Trump’s Supreme Court picks.

Manchin may have also benefited from the Republicans’ selection of a standard-bearer — State Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, who grew up in New Jersey, has only lived in West Virginia since 2006 and spent nearly a decade as a Washington lobbyist.

The folksy Manchin, a West Virginia native who served as governor before being elected to the Senate, has made much of that contrast. Morrisey has responded much the way Blackburn has in Tennessee — by trying to tie the incumbent to liberal establishment Democrats.

In Mississippi, both Senate seats are up this year due to the retirement of former U.S. Senator Thad Cochran. One race is a special election to fill the remainder of Cochran’s term; the other is for the seat occupied by Republican U.S. Senator Roger Wicker.

While Wicker is heavily favored over his Democratic challenger, State House Minority Leader David Baria, the special election features a three-way race in which candidates from all parties will compete and a runoff held between the top two vote-getters if no one captures a majority.

The special election is a three-way contest between Republican U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith, Cochran’s temporary replacement; Republican State Senator Chris McDaniel, who lost a bitter primary against Cochran in 2014; and Democrat Mike Espy, a former congressman who served as secretary of agriculture in the Clinton administration.

Depending on how evenly the Republican vote is divided, the top GOP candidate could face Espy in a November 27 runoff. But polls have showed Hyde-Smith with a wide lead over McDaniel, which could be enough for her to win the seat outright on Tuesday.

Although McDaniel was a vocal supporter of Trump in 2016, the president snubbed McDaniel and endorsed Hyde-Smith, who had been a Democrat until 2010. McDaniel has charged that Trump was “forced” into making the endorsement by Senate Republican leaders.

In Virginia, Kaine is facing Corey Stewart, chairman of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors, who served as Trump’s Virginia coordinator in 2016.

When he kicked off his campaign in July 2017, Stewart vowed to “run the most vicious, ruthless campaign” that he could against Kaine. However, public polling in the race has shown that strategy has failed to gain traction, and Kaine enjoys a wide lead.

See ChickenFriedPolitics.com’s latest ratings for hot U.S. Senate races

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Mississippi Runoff: Michael Guest wins GOP nomination for open in U.S. House District

State House Minority Leader David Baria will face U.S. Senator Roger Wicker in the fall

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

JACKSON, Mississippi (CFP) — Republicans in Mississippi’s 3rd U.S. House District have chosen prosecutor Michael Guest as their party’s nominee, making him the favorite to become the newest member of the state’s congressional delegation.

Guest, the chief prosecutor for the judicial district that includes Madison and Rankin counties, took 65 percent in the June 26 runoff to defeat Whit Hughes, a hospital executive and aide to former Governor Haley Barbour, who took 35 percent.

Michael Guest

Guest will now take on Democratic State Rep. Michael Ted Evans of Preston in the district, which stretches across southern Mississippi from Natchez to Meridian and also includes the northern Jackson suburbs. The seat is being vacated by U.S. Rep. Gregg Harper, who is retiring after five terms.

Guest will be favored in the heavily Republican district, which has been in GOP hands since 1997.

The other major race on the runoff ballot in Mississippi was the Democratic contest for U.S. Senate, where State House Minority Leader David Baria from Bay St. Louis defeated Howard Sherman, a venture capitalist from Meridian who is married to actress and Meridian native Sela Ward.

Baria took 59 percent to 41 percent for Sherman.

Wicker, elected to the Senate in 2008, is considered to be a heavy favorite for re-election in a state where Democrats haven’t won a Senate race since 1982.

The Magnolia State’s other Senate seat is also open, after the retirement of Thad Cochran earlier this year. It will be filled in an all-party special election in November that features Republican U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith, who was appointed as a temporary replacement for Cochran; GOP State Senator Chris McDaniel, who ran unsuccessfully to unseat Cochran in 2014; and former Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Espy, who served as agriculture secretary in the Clinton administration.

McDaniel had initially filed to run against Wicker in the primary but switched to the other race after Hyde-Smith was appointed to Cochran’s seat.

Primaries: Governor’s race tops ballot in Oklahoma; runoffs in South Carolina, Mississippi

South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster gets Donald Trump’s backing in quest to keep his job

OKLAHOMA CITY (CFP) — Oklahoma Republicans will go to the polls Tuesday to decide what is shaping up to be a tight three-way race for governor, picking a nominee to face a stronger-than-usual Democratic challenge in November in a political climate rocked by April’s statewide teachers’ strike.

In the state’s 1st U.S. House District in metro Tulsa, five Republicans and five Democrats are scrambling for spots in runoffs for an open seat.

Warren

McMaster

Meanwhile, in South Carolina, Republicans will decide a runoff between Governor Henry McMaster and Greenville businessman John Warren, with McMaster hoping for a last-minute boost from President Donald Trump, who visits the state Monday.

Upstate in the 4th U.S. House District, former State Senator Lee Bright from Spartanburg will face State Senator William Timmons from Greenville in the Republican runoff for the seat being vacated by retiring U.S. Rep. Trey Gowdy. Democrats in the district will choose between Doris Lee Turner, a Greenville tax accountant, and Brandon Brown, a college administrator from Greenville.

And in Mississippi, Democrats will decide a runoff to pick a nominee for the uphill task of trying to defeat Republican U.S. Senator Roger Wicker, while Republicans in the 3rd U.S. House District will settle a runoff for the seat being vacated by U.S. Rep. Gregg Harper, who is also retiring.

In the Senate runoff, Howard Sherman, a venture capitalist from Meridian who is married to actress and Meridian native Sela Ward, will face State House Minority Leader David Baria from Bay St. Louis.

In the 3rd District, Michael Guest, the chief prosecutor for the judicial district that includes Madison and Rankin counties, will face Whit Hughes, a hospital executive and aide to former Governor Haley Barbour.

Polls in all three states will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. local time.

In Oklahoma, voters will be going to the polls in the first statewide election since a teachers’ strike in April over low pay and what teachers saw as inadequate state support for education. The strike ended after legislators raised taxes to improve pay and school funding.

Kevin Stitt

Mick Cornett

Todd Lamb

The open Republican race for governor, which drew 10 candidates, is shaping up as a battle between Lieutenant Governor Todd Lamb, former Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett and Kevin Stitt, a wealthy Tulsa businessman who founded Gateway Mortgage Group.

Cornett, 59, a former television anchor in Oklahoma City, served 14 years as mayor and was president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors in 2016.

Lamb, 46, a former Secret Service agent, is finishing his second term as lieutenant governor, after previously serving in the Oklahoma Senate.

Stitt, running on a platform of reforming the political culture in Oklahoma City that came under fire during the teacher’s strike, surged in polls in the latter stages of the race after pouring in $2.2 million of his own money.

Oklahoma has primary runoffs, which means that a runoff between the top two vote-getters is likely. The runoff will be August 28.

Incumbent Republican Governor Mary Fallon is term limited.

While Republicans dominate Oklahoma politics — and Fallon won the last two races by double-digit margins — Democrats will have a viable nominee for governor, former Attorney General Drew Edmonson, who had raised $1.4 million heading into the primary, according to campaign finance reports filed with the Oklahoma Ethics Commission.

Edmundson, 71, comes from a prominent Oklahoma political family and served as attorney general from 1995 to 2011. His father was a congressman, his uncle a governor, and his brother, James, serves on the Oklahoma Supreme Court.

In Oklahoma’s 1st District, voters are picking a replacement for former Republican U.S. Rep. Jim Bridenstine, who resigned in April after he was confirmed as NASA administrator.

The Republican contest is shaping up as a battle between former Tulsa County District Attorney Tim Harris; Kevin Hern, a Tulsa McDonald’s franchisee; and Andy Coleman, an attorney and minister from Owasso.

On the Democratic side, the front runner is Tim Gilpin, a Tulsa attorney and former member of the state school board who has the backing of the Oklahoma Education Association.

In South Carolina, McMaster — who inherited the office last year when former Governor Nikki Haley became UN ambassador — is trying to hold off Warren, a political newcomer who came from the back of the pack to win the second spot in the runoff.

McMaster was the first statewide elected official to endorse President Trump in 2016, and the president returned the favor by tweeting an endorsement and making an appearance on his behalf Monday at a suburban Columbia high school.

Vice President Mike Pence campaigned with McMaster Saturday in Myrtle Beach.

The winner of the GOP runoff will face State Rep. James Smith from Columbia. Democrats have not won a governor’s race in the Palmetto State in 20 years.

Mississippi Primary: Guest, Hughes advance to runoff in 3rd District U.S. House race

Democrats narrow U.S. Senate field to Howard Sherman and David Baria

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

JACKSON, Mississippi (CFP) — A crowded field of six Republicans vying for the open 3rd District U.S. House seat in Mississippi has been narrowed to two contenders, with Michael Guest and Whit Hughes winning the right to face each other in a June 26 runoff.

Guest, the chief prosecutor for the judicial district that includes Madison and Rankin counties, took 45 percent in the first round of voting June 5, to 22 percent for Hughes, a hospital executive and aide to former Governor Haley Barbour.

Perry Parker, a farmer and investment executive from Seminary, came in third at 16 percent.

The 3rd District stretches across southern Mississippi from Natchez to Meridian and also includes the northern Jackson suburbs. The seat is being vacated by U.S. Rep. Gregg Harper, who is retiring after five terms.

The winner of the race between Guest and Hughes will face Democratic State Rep. Michael Ted Evans of Preston, who easily won his party’s primary.

Also in Mississippi, Democrats narrowed their field of candidates contending for the nomination to take on veteran Republican U.S. Senator Roger Wicker in November, a race in which the senator will be heavily favored.

Howard Sherman, a venture capitalist from Meridian who is married to actress and Meridian native Sela Ward, will face State House Minority Leader David Baria from Bay St. Louis in the runoff. Sherman took 32 percent to Baria’s 31 percent, eliminating four other candidates.

The Magnolia State’s other Senate seat is also open, after the retirement of Thad Cochran earlier this year. It will be filled in an all-party special election in November that features Republican U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith, who was appointed as a temporary replacement for Cochran; GOP State Senator Chris McDaniel, who ran unsuccessfully to unseat Cochran in 2014; and former Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Espy, who served as agriculture secretary in the Clinton administration.

McDaniel had initially filed to run against Wicker in the primary but switched to the other race after Hyde-Smith was appointed to Cochran’s seat.

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