Espy considers a rematch

By JACK RYAN ENTERPRISE JOURNAL,

Mike Espy, who lost to U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith in a 2018 special election, is thinking of a rematch in 2020.

Espy recently sent out a fundraising appeal, asking for contributions to run against Hyde-Smith next year. He said he’d be able to work with people across party lines and labels.

It’s the sort of talking point that normally would make sense, but we seem to be in a period when few politicians on either side want to work together. After more than a decade of political isolation in Mississippi, for example, the state’s Democrats might be spoiling for a fight.

Whether or not Washington politicians want to work together, Espy, the former Democratic congressman and agriculture secretary who now practices law in Jackson, would be a good candidate for the Senate. But his chances of defeating Hyde-Smith next year are no better than they were a year ago.

Espy ran a good race in 2018, finishing second among four candidates on the first ballot, and then losing to Hyde-Smith in the runoff by a 54-46 percent count.

That result was no surprise in a state dominated by Republican politics, and the case can be made that Espy’s name recognition and credibility made the runoff closer than any other Democratic candidate would have.

Hyde-Smith also handed Espy a gift for any undecided voters when her out-of-tune remarks about attending a public hanging and making it more difficult for liberals to vote became public.

In the end, the episodes were embarrassing but did not matter. It can be pointed out that Espy’s most damaging baggage — his acquittal of criminal charges as agriculture secretary — also had a negligible effect on the election.

Hyde-Smith, appointed to the seat by Gov. Phil Bryant upon the resignation of her predecessor, Sen. Thad Cochran, had a few months of incumbency working for her when she faced Espy last year. The Senate’s Republican majority helped her put the time to good use, providing her with funds for a number of projects back home.

By the time the next election rolls around, she will have been in office for more than two years, and Mississippi’s willingness to stick with its Washington incumbents is well documented.

Recently she has announced grants for various road and bridge projects, and has been an advocate for flood relief in the lower Mississippi Delta. She also has tied herself closely to President Trump, which can only help her with voters in 2020.

Add it all up and there is nothing to indicate that Hyde-Smith is in serious trouble next year, when she will seek her first full six-year term.

Meanwhile, give credit to Espy for thinking about running. It’s been hard for Democrats to recruit credible candidates for a number of elections in the state, and while incumbents may not like it, the voters are well served when a capable challenger offers an alternative.

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