The possibility exists that control of the Senate won’t be decided until November 27. That’s the scheduled date of a runoff election to determine the winner of the Mississippi race to fill out the remainder of retired Senator Thad Cochran’s term.
If no candidate receives 50 percent of the vote on election day, there will be a runoff between the top two candidates. At this point, it looks like Republican Cindy Hyde-Smith, appointed by Governor Phil Bryant, will face off against Mike Espy, agriculture secretary during the Clinton administration.
Recent polls show Hyde-Smith with the lead, but far short of the 50 percent she needs to avoid the runoff.
“Mississippi could be the deciding factor in who controls the Senate,” said Melissa Scallan, a spokeswoman for Republican U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith, who was appointed by Mississippi’s Republican governor to temporarily replace Cochran after he retired on April 1.
Democrats, who currently control 49 of the 100 seats in the Senate, face a tough political map as they are defending Senate seats in 10 states that Republican President Donald Trump carried in the 2016 election.
Opinion polls show Hyde-Smith, a former Democrat who has been endorsed by Trump, as the front-runner in the race. Democrat Mike Espy, a former congressman and agriculture secretary in the Clinton administration, is in second place and drawing enough support to possibly make it into a runoff.
Hyde-Smith’s chances may hinge on how much support Republican state Sen. Chris McDaniel draws. In a word, McDaniel is “controversial.” During the Kavanaugh nomination fight, he said that “99 percent of the time” sexual assault allegations “are just absolutely fabricated.” But he loves Trump and many Mississippians on the right love him. Hyde-Smith has been endorsed by the president, but McDaniel accuses her of being part of the establishment.
It isn’t that McDaniel has a ghost of a chance of winning. It’s that he may draw enough support from Hyde-Smith to send the contest to a dangerous runoff for Republicans. Espy, who is black, has a national reputation, is well funded, and will be doubly so if there’s a chance that the race in Mississippi will determine control of the Senate. There’s also the question of whether McDaniel supporters will turn out to vote for Hyde-Smith. With so many question marks, it’s no wonder that the RNC is casting nervous glances at Mississippi.
It’s not impossible for this scenario to play out, but it’s certainly unlikely. The GOP should flip a seat in North Dakota and possibly Missouri. If things break right for Republicans, they might steal seats in Indiana and West Virginia. But few seats for either side are locks given the volatile mood in the country.
But if it turns out that Mississippi is for the whole ball of wax, that runoff election will be the most interesting race of the cycle.