Mississippi voters will have a rare chance to vote for both of their U.S. senators on Tuesday in one of the state’s most historic election cycles. In this year’s midterm elections, both incumbent Republican senators are facing serious challengers in one of the arguably most divisive times in Washington, where the Republicans hold a slight majority in the Senate.
In a state where conservative politics dominate the political climate, two Democratic candidates have gained a significant following and have polled well recently — especially in the special election.
This year, Mississippians could play a role in which party controls the Senate, and Mississippians have the chance to elect their first female Senator as well as their first black Senator since Reconstruction.
Mississippi is holding a special election for the seat currently occupied by Republican incumbent U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, who was appointed to the Senate by Miss. Gov. Phil Bryant after former U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran resigned because of health concerns.
Former Democratic U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Mike Espy and Republican state Sen. Chris McDaniel are challenging Hyde-Smith in the special election that has garnered national attention and brought President Donald Trump to the state to campaign for Hyde-Smith in early October.
The special election, commonly called a “Jungle Primary,” is an election where all of the candidates running in the election compete in one race and the candidates are not separated by a party primary. If no candidate receives a majority of the votes in the first election, the top two candidates will then go on to compete in a runoff election.
A distinguishing point on which nearly all of the candidates differ is their view of Mississippi’s current role when it comes to education, Confederate symbols and attracting more people to the state.
The Republican candidates have an “old Mississippi” mentality, where they seemingly want to highlight the positive aspects of the state and embrace those elements moving forward by cultivating a pro-business environment and allowing people to make their own decisions without government intervention.
The Democratic candidates have a “new Mississippi” mentality, where they want the state to become more inclusive of the LGBTQ community and people of all races and backgrounds and make the government more involved in affecting change in Mississippians’ daily lives.
Nearly all of the candidates have acknowledged the problems that plague the state, like recent college graduates leaving in a mass exodus called the “brain drain,” the opioid epidemic affecting college campuses and Mississippi’s often negative perception at the national level.
Baria, Espy and Wicker have taken a stand and voiced support for removing the state flag that bears a Confederate symbol, which many Mississippians perceive as a sign of hate and division. McDaniel and Hyde-Smith both think the flag should flag should continue flying until Mississippians vote to remove it.
The other issue is how the candidates view their relationships with President Donald Trump. Wicker and Hyde-Smith have both been de facto implementers of Trump’s policy and view themselves as partners of Trump. McDaniel said he would do the same if elected.
Both Baria and Espy said they would work with Trump on policy they believe to be useful to the state, but they plan to serve as a strong check on the President.
So far, none of the candidates have participated in a debate. For the regularly scheduled election, Baria invited Wicker to participate in a debate, but Wicker has not agreed to participate.
In the special election, Espy and McDaniel have both challenged Hyde-Smith to a debate, but Hyde-Smith has said she would not be able to participate in a debate if she is working in Washington D.C. The Senate has not been in session since Oct. 27, and Hyde-Smith has not agreed to participate in a debate.
College students are expected to turn out at one of the highest rates in a long time. It’s important that they actually do, and have their voices heard in this election, because this is an election where Mississippians can make sure their voices are heard in two senate races and make sure the issues residents care about are represented on the national stage.
Follow The Daily Mississippian’s election coverage tomorrow at thedmonline.com and on our social media platforms.