Nov 27, 2018

Why the Mississippi Senate runoff is like Alabama (and why it isn't)

Hyde-Smith (left) and Espy. Photos: Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call via Getty, Wikimedia Commons

Some Republicans are worried that today's Mississippi Senate runoff could end up like last year's Alabama special election, with a scandal-plagued Republican candidate losing to a Democrat in deep red, Republican territory.

The big picture: Republican Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith has been fighting late controversies of her own making — saying she'd attend a "public hanging," among other things — just as Alabama's Roy Moore was damaged by his own late controversies (allegations of being a sexual predator). But there are also some important reasons why Hyde-Smith, unlike Moore, might survive, including the fact that President Trump and the GOP haven't kept her at arm's length the way they did with Moore.

Between the lines: The main differences that could work in Republicans' favor in Mississippi:

  • Alabama's other senator, Richard Shelby, announced he wouldn't vote for Moore, which gave permission to some GOP voters to stay home on election day. That hasn't happened in Mississippi.
  • The GOP largely abandoned Moore, but they're going all in for Hyde-Smith. Washington Republicans called on Moore to drop out of the race if the allegations were true, and the Republican National Committee pulled its money from the race until the very end, when they decided to spend for him in the final days. By contrast, two major GOP campaign groups are spending over $1 million each on ads for Hyde-Smith, per Politico.
  • Trump tweet-endorsed Moore right before the election, but he didn't hold a single rally in Alabama for him. This time, Trump held two rallies for Hyde-Smith in Mississippi the day before the election, one in Tupelo and the other in Biloxi.

Why it matters: The race isn't crucial to the balance of power in the Senate — it will only decide whether Republicans will have 52 or 53 seats. It would be a huge upset, however, if Democrat Mike Espy pulled out a victory, especially following Democrat Doug Jones' win in Alabama last year.

  • "If you couple this with what happened in Alabama, it’s a big change in the Old South," said Mark Mellman, a Democratic pollster whose firm is conducting surveys for Espy's campaign. "You’d have the first African American from Mississippi in the Senate since the Civil War ... and especially given her comments, it really would be finally turning the page on those old wounds."

The bottom line: Republicans still think they'll win this race. Democrats are optimistic that their base voters will turn out heavily for Espy, and they've focused on the state's African American voters, who could propel Espy to victory like they did for Jones in Alabama. But the odds are still heavily against any Democrat, given the makeup of the state's voters.

As one national Democratic operative told Axios: "We run out of our voters before they run out of theirs."

Go deeper: Democrats have out-performed in every special election over the last year

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Debate night: Candidates' last face-off before Super Tuesday

Sanders, Biden, Klobuchar and Steyer in South Carolina on Feb. 25. Photo: Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images

Sen. Bernie Sanders wanted to keep his momentum after winning contests in New Hampshire and Nevada, while former Vice President Joe Biden hoped to keep his own campaign alive. The other five candidates were just trying to hang on.

What's happening: Seven contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination were in Charleston, South Carolina, for the tenth debate, just days before the South Carolina primary and a week before Super Tuesday. They spoke, sometimes over each other, about health care, Russian interference in the election, foreign policy the economy, gun control, marijuana, education, and race.

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4 takeaways from the South Carolina debate

Former Vice President Joe Biden, right, makes a point during Tuesday's Democratic presidential debate, while Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders listens. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

The 10th Democratic debate was billed as the most consequential of the primary thus far, but Tuesday night's high-stakes affair was at times awkward and unfocused as moderators struggled to rein in candidates desperate to make one last splash before Saturday's primary in South Carolina and Super Tuesday.

The big picture: After cementing himself as the Democratic favorite with a sweeping win in Nevada, Sen. Bernie Sanders came under fire as the front-runner for the first time on the debate stage. Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who will be on the ballot for the first time next Tuesday, was a progressive foil once again, but he appeared more prepared after taking a drubbing at the Nevada debate.

Coronavirus spreads to Africa as U.S. soldier in South Korea tests positive

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins, the CDC, and China's Health Ministry. Note: China numbers are for the mainland only and U.S. numbers include repatriated citizens.

A 23-year-old American soldier stationed at Camp Carroll in South Korea has tested positive to the novel coronavirus, as the outbreak spreads to more countries.

The big picture: COVID-19 has killed more than 2,700 people and infected over 80,000 others, mostly in mainland China. Public health officials confirmed Tuesday the U.S. has 57 people with the novel coronavirus, mostly those repatriated from the Diamond Princess cruise ship.

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