Mississippi voters could decide which party enjoys a majority in the U.S. Senate in the anticipated special election runoff in late November.
A Mississippi Today analysis of the first campaign finance reports from the race shows that big donors around the country understand that fact.
At least $3 million from out of state has already been spent on the special election that will determine who will permanently fill retired U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran’s seat. More than half of the 1,800 contributions to candidates’ committees between April 1 and June 30 came from out of state.
U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, the Republican incumbent, raised $650,500 from out-of-state political action committees between April 1 and June 30. That figure does not include contributions from individuals who live outside Mississippi.
Also not included in Hyde’s total is more than $750,000 the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has spent on advertisements for Hyde-Smith nor a $250,000 donation that New York billionaire Sean Parker gave to a pro-Hyde-Smith super PAC in April.
In all, Hyde-Smith raised $1.5 million through June, beating both Democratic challenger Mike Espy and conservative Republican challenger Chris McDaniel by more than $1 million dollars.
Espy raised $308,000 through June, with 64 percent of the total number of contributions coming from outside Mississippi. He reported having $281,476 cash on hand through the second quarter of the year.
Included in the Espy disbursements are payments to Washington, D.C.,-based political consultant Joe Trippi. Trippi was a lead consultant on the 2017 campaign of Sen. Doug Jones, a Democrat from Alabama who shocked the nation and defeated controversial Republican candidate Roy Moore.
Trippi also consulted earlier this year in Mississippi for Howard Sherman, a California businessman who ran in the Democratic U.S. Senate primary for the seat currently held by U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker. Sherman was walloped by Gulf Coast state Rep. David Baria by 17 points in a June runoff.
McDaniel raised $272,263 in the same period, with 62 percent of the total number of contributions coming from outside Mississippi. He reported having $156,054 cash on hand through the second quarter.
McDaniel’s sum included donations from several members of the Mercer family, including New York billionaire Robert Mercer. Mercer had previously donated $500,000 to a pro-McDaniel super PAC, matching Illinois billionaire Dick Uihlein’s $500,000 to the same committee.
Hyde-Smith was appointed in April to replace retiring Sen. Thad Cochran, faces Espy and McDaniel in a special election in November. Finance reports for the fourth candidate in the race, Democrat Tobey Bartee of Gautier, were not published on the Federal Election Commission website on Saturday afternoon.
The large amounts of money pouring into the special election contrasts a relatively quiet campaign cycle thus far in Mississippi. Hyde-Smith and McDaniel have traded punches over who best represents conservative ideas.
McDaniel’s attacks on Hyde-Smith have been loud and consistent: She was a Democrat until 2010; she isn’t conservative enough; she was hand-picked by the GOP establishment, he has said on social media and in interviews.
To counter, Hyde-Smith has relied on pairing herself with President Trump and championing GOP legislative priorities on the campaign trail.
Espy, on the other hand, had been absent from the public eye until the past couple weeks. U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, a New Jersey Democrat who is mulling a 2020 presidential run, endorsed Espy at a campaign event in Jackson on Friday.
To date, Espy’s message of reaching across the aisle and transcending party labels has gone completely unchecked by either Hyde-Smith or McDaniel to date.
Breakdown of fundraising by candidates’ committee through June 30:
Raised: $308,236 (plus a $100,000 personal loan)
Cash on hand: $281,476
Cash on hand: $1,389,799
Raised: $272,263 (plus a $55,000 personal loan)
Cash on hand: $156,054
No finance report available.