Mississippi runoff: 5 takeaways from 2018’s last Senate race

Republican Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith has defeated Democrat Mike Espy in the Mississippi special Senate runoff election. The win capped off a tumultuous final few weeks of the campaign for Hyde-Smith who had a string of controversies, many of them touching on issues of race.

Yet, Hyde-Smith’s win and the (relatively small) size of it makes a lot of sense when put in the context of this election cycle. Here are five takeaways for the Mississippi race and why it went down the way it did.

1. The result looked like what you expect in a blue wave climate

Mississippi is a really red state. President Donald Trump won it by 18 points in 2016. Therefore in a political environment in which Democrats are winning the national vote by high single digits, we wouldn’t expect a Democrat to win a Senate seat in Mississippi. Rather, we’d expect them to come closer than Hillary Clinton did in 2016. That’s exactly what happened.

When I used the results of other Senate races this year and controlled for incumbency and past presidential vote, a Hyde-Smith win of about 7 percentage points was predicted. That’s right around the margin she ended up winning by.

2. Hyde-Smith’s comments probably hurt her

Back in the primary when all the Democrats and Republicans ran against each other, the Republicans combined for 58% of the vote to the Democrats 42% of the vote. In our hyper-polarized political climate, you’d expect Hyde-Smith to capture pretty much all of the other Republican votes. Remember her Republican opponent in round one was the even more conservative Chris McDaniel, whose voters would not be inclined to vote for Espy.

Instead, Espy gained about 5 points in the runoff relative to his primary vote share of 41%. His performance in the state looks to be better than any Democratic Senate candidate