Five Thoughts After the Mississippi Senate Race

Lots of fighting and money spent, little change

Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, R-Miss., won the special election runoff Tuesday night, becoming the first woman elected to Congress from Mississippi. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Even though it looks like California will be counting votes until Christmas, I’m ready to close the book on the 2018 midterm elections now that the Mississippi special Senate election is over. Yes, I know there are runoffs in Georgia and Louisiana for state races, but the marquee matchups are complete.

Here are some thoughts before we turn all our attention to 2020.

All that for one seat?

After two years of fighting, spending and campaigning, and one party being handed a very favorable map, the U.S. Senate will be one seat different at the beginning of the 116th Congress than it was at the beginning of the 115th Congress. Republicans gained a net of two Senate seats in the November elections, but they lost the special election in Alabama last December. So the net change is minimal. The GOP majority shifted from 52-48 in January 2017 to 53-47 in January 2019.

A league of her own

From the public hanging remark to her debate performance, it was pretty clear that Cindy Hyde-Smith was out of her league. The entire race felt like a classic case of a former state legislator and lower-level statewide officeholder who wasn’t ready for the hotter spotlight of a U.S. Senate race. Former Rep. Mike Espy might have been a little rusty more than two decades after his last congressional run, but his biggest handicap was being a Democrat in a Republican state.

Moving the baseline

After all the attention surrounding the senator’s “public hanging” comment, where she went to school, and what bills she passed in the Legislature, Hyde Smith’s final percentage wasn’t dramatically different from that of a typical Mississippi Republican candidate. The Inside Elections Baseline Republican performance of Mississippi is 58 percent and Hyde-Smith received 54 percent. But Espy narrowed the gap, receiving 46 percent compared to the Baseline Democratic performance of 40 percent.

Special election slog

Through the very end of the cycle, the special election trend continued. In virtually every instance, Democrats overperformed. Republicans’ saving grace was that most of the special elections took place in GOP-friendly territory, so their win-loss record wasn’t terrible. But that dynamic wasn’t enough to stem general election losses in the House, where the battlefield was in more Democratic or toss-up territory.

Every seat matters

Even though the majority wasn’t at stake in Mississippi, the outcome is still consequential. Hyde-Smith’s victory gives Majority Leader Mitch McConnell a little extra margin for the next two years and it makes it one seat more difficult for Democrats to regain the majority in the 2020 elections.

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