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Mississippi Runoff Analysis: How Mike Espy won Lafayette County

Organized Democratic Party in Lafayette helped lead to Nov. 27 runoff

As Republican legislators Roger Wicker and Trent Kelly cruised to victories in Lafayette County on Nov. 6, Mike Espy, a Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate, won Lafayette’s vote.

The 45-to-41 percent win over Republican candidate Cindy Hyde-Smith in Lafayette, in part, helped send the election to a runoff vote between the two on Nov. 27, which has already been picking up national attention.

According to University of Mississippi professor of political science Dr. Marvin King, Espy’s win in Lafayette came because the local Democratic Party in Lafayette is more organized than in other counties.

While having a more organized local party might not translate to success on the statewide level, King said an organized, active base would be more likely to volunteer or go door-to-door for their candidate.

“He had more institutional support,” King said. “People will believe their votes make a difference.”

King pointed to Espy’s background as the former United States Secretary of Agriculture as reason why he’s an attractive candidate to some Mississippians. However, King also said Espy winning the runoff election on Nov. 27 would still be an upset of magnificent and historical proportions.

The biggest reason an Espy win would be so improbable, is because he has the challenge of motivating his voter base to get out and vote again, while also trying to convince voters that voted for second Republican candidate Chris McDaniel to vote Espy instead.

McDaniel conceded after receiving only 17 percent of the vote in Lafayette County.

The runoff election, while being one of the few runoff elections in the nation, made national headlines when a video published online showed Hyde-Smith praising someone saying, “If he invited me to a public hanging, I’d be on the front row.”

In response, the Mississippi Legislative Democratic Caucus, Espy’s campaign communications manager and the Mississippi NAACP all released statements condemning her comments.

According to the Associated Press, Hyde-Smith would not answer any questions about her comments on Monday, but did release a statement.

“In a comment on Nov. 2, I referred to accepting an invitation to a speaking engagement,” Hyde-Smith said in a statement. “In referencing the one who invited me, I used an exaggerated expression of regard, and any attempt to turn this into a negative connotation is ridiculous.”

King, however, said her comments would not even matter come Nov. 27, as hardening partisanship entrenches voters to side with whichever political party they align with.

“It’s just today’s news cycle,” he said. “If she says it’s an innocent expression, that’s how (her voters) are going to see it.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report