/Espy campaign will either be history-making or instructive for Mississippi Dems

Espy campaign will either be history-making or instructive for Mississippi Dems

Espy is running a statewide election like no Mississippi Democrat before. Mississippi Democrats, at least those who had a chance of winning, ran from national Democrats in the past. Espy isn’t. Espy is running against Republican incumbent Sen. Cindy Hyde Smith in the Nov.3 election. He was recently featured speaker in a videoconference by Joe Biden’s campaign on racial equality for rural America. Espy was invited to speak because he represents the majority rural Mississippi Delta as a Congressman and because he served as U.S. Secretary of Agriculture. He spoke glowingly about Biden at the event. Espy stated that he knew Joe Biden had the ability, the empathy and the experience to restore normalcy to the nation. “That’s what we need.” Mix such an event with the 2019 race for Governor by former Attorney General Jim Hood. The Hood campaign quietly released an endorsement by former President Barack Obama via telephone on election night. This endorsement was targeted at Black Mississippians. The Hood campaign was concerned that Obama’s endorsement might cause harm to certain white voters who they needed to win the election. There was also the 2008 special Senate Election. Many saw Ronnie Musgrove, a Democrat, as trying to distance him from Obama, the Democratic presidential nominee. Roger Wicker, the Republican Senate Candidat, ran radio ads in Black communities, highlighting Musgrove’s apparent aversion towards Obama. Wicker did not endorse Obama, however. Although Musgrove stated that he was supporting Obama, Wicker just said Musgrove wasn’t fully behind him. In Mississippi, Democrats have attempted to tread the same tightrope election after election. It wasn’t Obama. Mississippi Democrats who are running for governor have also avoided Bill and Hillary Clinton, and other national Democrats. There may not be any reason to get along with the national Democrats as a statewide candidate in Mississippi. The Democratic presidential candidate for the state has only won it once since 1960. That was in 1976, when Jimmy Carter, a fellow Southerner, took the victory. While most Mississippi officeholders were Democrats during those years, they were far from liberals who were aligned with national Democrats. It wasn’t an accident that Michael Dukakis was presented at the Neshoba Country Fair 1988 as the presidential nominee for “the national Democratic Party.” However, this year Espy has looked over the landscape and decided to pursue a different strategy. The old strategy hasn’t worked in recent history. Hood held the office of attorney general for four terms before deciding to run in 2019. Espy quickly states that he will work with the president to help Mississippi if elected, but he is tying his campaign wagon to Joe Biden as well as national Democrats. This strategy was a little bit of a compromise that Espy tried to use in the 2018 special elections when he challenged Hyde Smith, an interim senator tapped by the then-Gov. Thad Cochran was resigned and Phil Bryant will replace him. California Sen. Kamala Harris was the front-runner to become Biden’s running partner. New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, along with other national Democrats, visited the state that year to support Espy. Harris quickly stated that Espy was more conservative than she was during her visit, but she believed he would still be the best candidate for Mississippi’s Senate seat. Espy was elected governor in 2018 with 420,819 votes. That is 46.4%. The Democratic Hood, who won 414,368 votes (47.85%) in the race to become governor a year later. In 2008, Musgrove received 560,064 votes (or 45%) against Wicker in Senate race. Obama won 554,663, which is 43% against Republican John McCain. No matter what your perspective, Espy in 2018 and Hood in 2019 garnered similar votes to Musgrove in 2008. Musgrove’s results were skewed by the fact that he was elected during a presidential election year with higher voter participation. But the bottom line is that there were three elections with almost identical results. Mississippi currently has no elected Democrats statewide. Espy has a strategy to achieve a different outcome. If nothing else, his campaign will provide valuable insight for future Mississippi Democrats. However, if he doesn’t outperform Musgrove in 2008’s election, Democrats may be left asking: Can any strategy work in the future for them?