In a Conflict Ridden State, How Much has Changed?
Mississippi’s conflict-ridden run-off Senate election on November 27 has resulted in the victory of republican incumbent Cindy Hyde-Smith over democratic former Congressman Mike Espy. Hyde-Smith has faced controversy throughout her campaign for racially-charged comments and actions, most notably the statement directed toward a supporter that "If he invited me to a public hanging, I'd be on the front row", as well as her past praise of Confederate president Jefferson Davis and her attendance of an all-white private school founded to fight school integration. Mississippi’s election of a white woman (Hyde-Smith) over a black man (Espy) is viewed as largely unsurprising, given the racial history of the state. Mississippi has not elected a black senator since 1877, and has elected only two black men to the house since reconstruction (one of them being Espy). By some estimates, Hyde-Smith won by a smaller margin than what was expected, 54- 46%. Neither candidate was able to get over 50% of the vote in the original election on November 6, which led the state to hold a special run-off election.
This election has garnered national attention for what it could potentially represent. This attention increased due to an impactful action the night before the election: two nooses were hung outside the Mississippi capitol building, along with signs encouraging voters to recall the history of the state and to elect a senator who “respects the lives of lynch victims”. One of the signs referenced the 1955 lynching of Emmett Till, a black fourteen-year-old killed for allegedly whistling at a white woman. The election is being viewed by some as reminiscent of this era.
Neighboring Alabama’s 2017 senate race, which saw the victory of Doug Jones, a democrat, over Roy Moore, a republican scarred by controversy surrounding sexual assault of minors, gave many hope going into Mississippi’s election that Hyde-Smith’s comments would similarly be her downfall in this election. Based upon the results, it has become clear that this controversy was not sufficient to deter voters from favoring Hyde-Smith. This election calls into question the state and progress of race relations in Mississippi, which has been largely questioned in many states, and in the US in general, in recent months.
In the wake of the midterm elections, which featured a somewhat underwhelming “blue wave”, this election continued this trend, increasing the senate majority to a 53-47 republican lead.