Mississippi Special Election: Can Democrat Mike Espy Pull Off an Upset Victory for the US Senate?

“Mississippi voters do not like to be embarrassed,” says Professor Gerald Horne while analysing the upcoming special election between Democrat Mike Espy against incumbent Cindy Hyde-Smith

Can Democratic Challenger Mike Espy Pull Off an Upset Victory in Mississippi's US Senate Race?

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Story Transcript

KHALILAH HARRIS: It’s The Real News Network. I’m Khalilah Harris coming to you from Baltimore. I’m here with Dr. Gerald Horne, professor of history at the University of Houston; author of a number of books, ranging from the exploration of the slave trade to colonialism to the Cold War. Welcome, Dr. Horne.

GERALD HORNE: Thank you for inviting me.

KHALILAH HARRIS: So today we wanted to discuss the Mississippi runoff happening for the U.S. Senate seat between Mike Espy and the incumbent Cindy Hyde-Smith. Why don’t we dive right in. Let me ask you, what do you think Mike Espy’s chances are for pulling off a win in a state where we see even today nooses were found hanging at the Mississippi Capitol building, and we have someone vying to be a Democrat in this deeply red state?

GERALD HORNE: Well, it’s going to be an uphill climb. I have to say, I’m very familiar with Mississippi. My parents and grandparents were there. My great grandparents were actually enslaved in Mississippi. I was just there a few days ago doing research. And Mississippi, as you know, may be the most conservative state in the United States of America, which is really saying something. In a quite remarkable cross-class Coalition for the last half century, about 9 out of 10 Euro-Americans have voted for the right wing, have voted for the Republican Party. They are the majority in the state of Mississippi. It’s apparent that many in that coalition and that bloc did not react very well when Senator Hyde-Smith was accused of insensitivity when she spoke of attending a public hanging as a figure of speech.

The response from her supporters was that this should just be ignored. And interestingly enough, the New York Times had a piece just a couple of days ago where it pointed out that Mr. Espy, the Democratic Party challenger, faces a dilemma, because if he presses too hard on that particular issue there will be a so-called white backlash against him. That is to say, you’re supposed to take a soft line against lynchings in the state of Mississippi. I’m afraid that’s where we are right now.

KHALILAH HARRIS: And we saw that she also doubled down on her comments.

CINDY HYDE-SMITH: We put out a statement yesterday, and we stand by that statement.

REPORTER: Could you expand on it, then? Why you said it, what you meant by it, and why people in the state should not see it as offensive?

CINDY HYDE-SMITH: We put out the statement yesterday, and it’s available, and we stand by that statement.

REPORTER: [Inaudible] are you familiary with Mississippi’s history of lynchings?

CINDY HYDE-SMITH: I put out a statement yesterday, and that’s all I’m going to say about it. I put out a statement today, and we stand by the statement, and that’s all I’m going to say about it. I put out a statement yesterday. We stand by the statement. We did address it yesterday. Thank you very much.

KHALILAH HARRIS: As you said, her supporters suggesting that we should look past it. But she, also really being dismissive of the insensitivity of her comments, and in fact that people perceived them to be racist, quite frankly. Do you think that’s going to harm her in this election?

GERALD HORNE: Well, I think it may harm her national profile. I’m not sure if it will harm her Mississippi profile. However, one factor that needs to be taken into account with regard to Dixie–and I speak to you from the state of Texas, and I also speak to you as a person who has also lived in North Carolina–is that the reactionaries in Dixie get upset when an elected representative brings embarrassment to the state. And that’s what Senator Hyde-Smith is doing by making these intemperate comments. That may be a factor, although I’m not sure if it will be enough to help the push Mr. Espy over the finish line ahead of her.

However, another heartening aspect of this entire race is that there has been a boycott of many of her donors. I’m speaking of what’s happening in the San Francisco Bay area, where the prominent civil rights lawyer John Burris and the prominent academic professor Harry Edwards of the University of California Berkeley are promising to boycott the San Francisco Giants baseball team since a principal owner of that major league franchise made a donation to Senator Hyde-Smith’s campaign. My understanding is that this kind of effort is also spreading nationally. And I think that’s the kind of solidarity the Mississippi needs if it’s going to be pushed into the 21st century.

KHALILAH HARRIS: Right. We see some of her campaign donors, in terms of corporations, with Wal-Mart and Major League Baseball rescinding their donations. But we also see massive dollars being poured into the race. We also, when you talk about embarrassment, we also see that Donald Trump is going to be hosting two rallies today. Do you think that will position her to have her base riled up in a way that will get the turnout that she needs? Especially, in fact, we see that there has been unprecedented early voting and absentee ballot casting, as we’re hearing being reported from the state of Mississippi. Do you think that Donald Trump’s two rallies today will have impact to really get turnout from their base?

GERALD HORNE: It’s hard to say. Recall that just a few weeks ago Donald J. Trump visited Southaven, Mississippi, which is actually a suburb of Memphis, Tennessee. And his visit was aimed at the Mississippi–excuse me, at the Tennessee races. And you may recall that the Republicans did quite well in the state of Tennessee. I daresay that his visits to Mississippi will help to galvanize the base for Senator Hyde-Smith. And it may be enough to help her overcome her otherwise indistinguished campaign that has embarrassed the state of Mississippi before the eyes of the world.

KHALILAH HARRIS: Do you believe that the type of turnout that we’re seeing in Mississippi from, in particular, black voters can be something that’s sustained over time? And what are the implications of Mike Espy even getting this close to Cindy Hyde-Smith to force a runoff?

GERALD HORNE: Well, I think it’s significant that Espy has done well, but doing well is not the same as winning. I mean, actually, I expect him not to do as well as Andrew Gillum, the gubernatorial candidate in the state of Florida, an African American, who lost; or Stacey Abrams, the gubernatorial candidate in the state of Georgia, who lost. Recall that in the state of Florida, for example, in the panhandle region where the black population is relatively sparse, you had a major league turnout. Almost three quarters of voters turned out, whereas in Miami-Dade County, were black Americans and Haitian Americans are prevalent and prominent, you had a turnout of about 56 percent. That was the kind of barrier that Andrew Gillum could not overcome.

I’m not sure if Espy’s campaign has been as stimulating and as galvanizing as those of Abrams and Gillum. He is not as far to the left as Abrams and Gillum. And perhaps if he had moved as far to the left as Abrams and Gillum he would not have been in this runoff. But in any case, it’s going to take a gigantic turnout by the black vote in the state of Mississippi for him to have a ghost of a chance of prevailing.

KHALILAH HARRIS: How significant is it that the Republicans get this 53rd vote in the Senate?

GERALD HORNE: Well, it’s important in terms of judicial nominations. But as you know, even before the arrival of the new Congress in January, you have seen the Republicans pushing through more judicial nominations in the U.S. Senate, which they control now and will continue to control in January. Whether or not Senator Hyde-Smith prevails, I dare say that these judicial nominations will continue to be on the fast track. However, if she does not prevail, it will be a demoralizing blow to the GOP not unlike the senatorial campaign in the state of neighboring Alabama, where Doug Jones was able to pull out a victory over a pedophile.

KHALILAH HARRIS: Well, Professor Horne, thank you so much for your time. We’re going to be tracking this race through tomorrow to figure out whether or not we have an upset in the state of Mississippi for the U.S. Senate race where they’re having a runoff. Thank you so much.

GERALD HORNE: Thank you for inviting me.

KHALILAH HARRIS: I’m Khalilah Harris for The Real News. If you enjoy the news that we bring you, consider making a donation at www.TheRealNews.com/donate. Thank you.