/Rep Bennie Thompson, Democratic kingmaker, throws full support behind Mike Espy in Senate race

Rep Bennie Thompson, Democratic kingmaker, throws full support behind Mike Espy in Senate race

Thompson was described by an editorial board of a newspaper as “your best and worst political friend” when he was elected to Congress. He is now the Democratic kingmaker in Mississippi. He is the party’s most influential figure and has been the only representative of African Americans living in the Blackest state. Thompson has real influence with Black voters. He rose from small-town alderman in just five decades to become a powerful chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives. His supporters say that he is more than just the congressman for the 2nd congressional District, where Black voters account for 61% of the electorate. He also serves as the official congressman to all Black Mississippians. “If a Gulf Coast resident has a problem they call the Congressman’s office,” stated Corey Wiggins (executive director of the Mississippi NAACP). He has never refused to help Mississippians regardless of where they reside. He represents the whole state, and that is how he has always operated.” This is why Joe Biden (the former vice president) called Thompson in March to ask him to host a campaign tour through Mississippi. It’s also why Mike Espy (Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate November) has teamed up with Thompson. It’s one thing for Thompson to be publicly supported, but another to get it. When Espy was running against the Republican Senator Cindy Hyde Smith two years ago, Thompson did not go to great lengths publicly to support him. Although there were some fundraising calls and joint events, they weren’t very many. Espy’s campaign fell short of key internal targets in that year, most glaringly with Black voter participation in Thompson’s District — and he lost by approximately 66,000 votes or 7.5 points. It is different this year as Espy takes on Hyde-Smith in an 2018 rematch. Thompson has been there to support Espy by appearing at many public events and hosting Washington fundraisers. He also called Senator Minority Leader Chuck Schumer for Espy’s benefit. They are working together closely in the last two weeks of 2020 to get as many Democratic voters out as possible. In an hour-long interview, Thompson said Monday that there is no daylight between Mike Espy and Bennie Thompson in the Nov. 3 election. “(Being Mississippi’s only Democrat is too heavy a burden on me. I need your help. Mike Espy has both the knowledge and the passion for the state to make it happen. After their political careers were once viewed in similar light, they have diverged significantly in the 1990s. Espy was a young congressman from Mississippi’s 2nd district. He was a rising star within the National Democratic Party in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Espy won elections through building coalitions between black and white voters in the Delta. In 1993, Espy was appointed U.S. secretary for agriculture by President Bill Clinton. Several candidates ran in special elections to succeed him. Bennie Thompson (45 years old), was one of the candidates. His political career was influenced by civil rights activism. Thompson was an alderman, mayor and supervisor for Bolton and Hinds County. Thompson was elected to the special election to succeed Espy in Congress. He has also won 12 other elections for the seat. Espy was subsequently removed from the political spotlight after he resigned in 1994 as Agriculture Secretary amid allegations that he had illegally accepted gifts. Although Espy was cleared by a federal jury in 1998 of all charges, he continued to be absent from politics for nearly 20 years until he announced his candidacy in the 2018 Senate race. Thompson, now 72, is Mississippi’s longest-serving congressional member. He has established a strong political network that touches every Mississippi county. He’s using this network to help Espy get his political career back on track and to send him to the U.S. Senate. Thompson stated, “Everytime there’s an occasion to work together we do.” We have a day planned for Election Day. There will be areas in my district where I’ll tell Mike, “Mike, your people don’t have to come over here.” We have your back. We got your back. Thompson believes Espy is on the right track to victory. Thompson stated that he believes Espy will win because he has retooled the campaign from two years back. Thompson stated that he has targeted voters that he wants to reach, and those voters who are not often seen are coming because of the targeting. Now we have a veteran campaign staff that has the expertise they needed two years ago. He’s also raised the money necessary to run a credible campaign.” Republican Senator Thad Cochran has held the seat in the state Senate for 40 years. It is now up for grabs in November. Although they were in opposing parties, Thompson and Cochran maintained a close working relationship. They met regularly to discuss how they could promote legislation that would benefit Mississippians. Thompson spoke fondly about the late senator and his legacy to Mississippi. He said that Hyde-Smith hasn’t done enough to continue Cochran’s ability for Mississippi’s most vulnerable. “Thad Cochran set a high bar. Thompson stated that on his perch (as Senate Appropriations Chairman), he procured more resources than any other senator in America for Mississippi. You have to balance that with the fact we get three dollars for every dollar sent to Washington. We are basically dependent on the federal government’s generosity. And if we have someone who doesn’t get that, it doesn’t matter how proud you might be, you’re still representing a poor state.” He said, “I wish her well. But the bar is really high for her success. She will not be able to change her path, which is what is happening across the country. The 2020 Mississippi Senate campaign will focus on race. Espy has made it clear that he will need a record African American turnout in order to win the November election. In 2020, Espy has been more deliberate than in 2018. He spoke out about his childhood in Mississippi, where he was racially divided. He talked about how he incorporated his high school and how his grandfather established the state’s first Black hospital. And how he used his political career to create coalitions of people with different political views and races. Hyde-Smith has also made numerous mistakes when it comes to race. He said on the 2018 campaign trail that he would be “on the front row” for “a public hanging” and he was a supporter. Thompson stated that Hyde-Smith’s lack of “sensitivity to African Americans” was a problem in her Mississippi Today interview. “I believe you are the sum of all your experiences,” Thompson said. If your life experiences have been with a particular group of people and you’ve never been around African Americans, then you are who you are. While some might say that you’re prone to making mistakes, this is really who you are. It’s not Mississippi. It’s impossible to talk about hanging without understanding the history of hangings and lynchings throughout Mississippi and why that’s not something most people (both Black and white) are proud of. So I think that Cindy Hyde Smith is not sensitive to race issues.” Thompson is aware that Mississippi has never elected an African American senator in a state election. Mike Espy would be not only the first Black senator elected from Mississippi by popular vote but also the eleventh Black senator in America’s history. According to the congressman, who describes himself as “an eternal optimist”, he believes Mississippians will take this historic step on November 3. Thompson stated, “He can raise the standard, and he can help break down the glass ceiling for African American elected officials here in Mississippi.” He would be unique. He was the first African American to be elected to the House after Reconstruction. And he will be the first African American to be elected to the Senate since Reconstruction. We’ll also have Mike Espy.”