Cindy Hyde-Smith should have been a slam-dunk in this year’s senate race in Mississippi. She’s running as a Republican (despite being a lifelong Democrat until 2011) in a state that hasn’t elected a Democrat to the United States Senate since 1982.
Yet some polls, according to outlets such as the New York Times, have her lead down to 3 to 5 points. Why?
Well, of course there are the gaffes. She is just a clumsy politician. When she talked about being on the front row for a public hanging, I believe the furthest thing from her mind was a lynching. She said it standing next to a cattleman, and likely was thinking about what happened to cattle rustlers in the Old West.
But then photographs surfaced of her wearing a Confederate soldier’s cap at the Jefferson Davis Museum, with her caption “Mississippi history at its finest!” After that, information surfaced that she had attended a segregated school and sent her daughter to one as well. There may be perfectly innocent explanations for these. For instance, at the museum, she may just have been having some fun. And perhaps the primary issue in her parents’ choice of a school for her and her choice for her daughter may have been about quality of education rather than racism.
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Unfortunately, we’ll never know, since she has refused to engage anyone over legitimate questions about these events. She has refused all media interviews for the last week of the campaign, and refused all interview invitations from conservative radio talk show hosts to explain herself on air. At a press conference, she woodenly stuck to her position that she had nothing to add to her written statement, which left many questions unanswered.
Entering into a cone of silence at the climax of a campaign isn’t smart politics. It sounds like a politician who lacks confidence in her own positions and her ability to articulate them. Not a resume enhancer for someone who wants to join the greatest deliberative body in the world.
She claims to be pro-life, yet admitted on camera at a campaign stop that she had voted for a bill that funds Planned Parenthood. She quite likely only switched parties seven years ago to run for statewide office, since it’s virtually impossible to win a statewide office in Mississippi as a Democrat. This, if true, looks like political opportunism rather than political conviction.
The main thing she has going for her is the endorsement of President Trump. Internal polling indicates that his first campaign appearance for Ms. Hyde-Smith produced an astounding 30 point swing in her numbers. The president’s two campaign stops for her tonight (Monday) will quite likely be enough to push her over the top, since the president is wildly popular in Mississippi.
Trump’s endorsement was a bit of mystery to observers, since the other Republican candidate in the race, state senator Chris McDaniel, was much closer to the president on the issues that matter to conservatives – building a wall, defunding Planned Parenthood, protecting religious liberty, and reducing government regulation and dependency.
But the president does not know the lay of the land in Mississippi, and had to depend on counsel from those who do. Unfortunately, his advice quite likely came from certified members of the GOP establishment who have developed an antipathy towards McDaniel for whatever reasons, and would steer the president toward a more Swamp-ish choice.
Although Mike Espy, the Democrat in the race, is unlikely to win, there are a couple of wild cards. The population of Mississippi is 38% black. If the African-American community can be motivated to turn out in unusual numbers for Espy, it’s possible they could swing the election his way.
The other “known unknown” is whether McDaniel’s supporters will turn out to vote for Hyde-Smith or simply stay home because of her vote to fund Planned Parenthood and their disgust with the GOP establishment. McDaniel got 16% of the vote in the primary, and she needs a big chunk of those voters to turn out. It’s anybody’s guess if they will.
We’ll never know what the election would have looked like if a staunch conservative like McDaniel had had the support of President Trump. But it would have been fun to find out.
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