Republicans hit the road, Democrats stay in Jackson in final push before Election Day

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Eric J. Shelton, Mississippi Today

Poll workers wait for voters at Casey Elementary during the runoff elections Tuesday, June 26, 2018.

Pleading their cases one last time before Mississippians head to the polls, U.S. Senate candidates are traveling the state Monday hoping to shore up victory on Election Day.

Republican Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith is meeting with voters in Hattiesburg, Meridian, Jackson and Monticello on Monday, traveling with Gov. Phil Bryant and outgoing Congressman Gregg Harper. Republican challenger state Sen. Chris McDaniel will meet voters in Meridian, Flowood, Hattiesburg, Biloxi and Pascagoula.

“We’re calling, knocking, messaging and dragging every Republican out to the polls to elect Chris McDaniel, rain or shine,” said Tanner Watson, McDaniel’s communications director.

Melissa Scallan, a spokeswoman for Hyde-Smith, said in addition to appearances with Bryant and Harper, the campaign will be knocking on doors and calling people to remind them to vote.

Because Election Day forecasts call for the possibility of rain in some parts of the state, Scallan added: “We want people to vote, but we also want them to be aware of the weather and choose a time when the weather is not bad.”

The Democratic challengers for both Senate seats, however, are staying in Jackson the day before the election. Mike Espy, who’s running against Hyde-Smith and McDaniel in the special election, is greeting voters for lunch at Bully’s restaurant in Jackson and speaking at Anderson United Methodist Church in Jackson Monday evening.

David Baria, the Democrat running against Sen. Roger Wicker, will also meet voters at Bully’s restaurant in Jackson and later spend time in the Fondren neighborhood.

The last-minute ground game strategies come after candidates spent weeks selling their agendas, focusing on counties with the most votes up for grabs. A look at the ten counties with the most voters in the 2016 presidential election, the most recent statewide general election, shows the benefits of candidates spending time where they are in the final hours before the election.

Espy and Baria are spending their time in Hinds County, which features more votes than any county in the state and routinely votes Democratic in statewide elections.

Hyde-Smith is spending time in Forrest County and Lauderdale County, Republican strongholds where close to 60,000 people reside who voted in the 2016 election. McDaniel is hitting Harrison and Jackson counties, where 113,000 2016 voters live.

2016 presidential election votes by county:

Hinds: 94,681

DeSoto: 65,695

Harrison: 63,313

Rankin: 62,768

Madison: 49,802

Jackson: 49,567

Lee: 32,913

Lauderdale: 29,506

Jones: 28,352

Forrest: 28,064

Enthusiasm appears to be high for Tuesday’s election. An example of the level of enthusiasm is the number of absentee ballots requested — 68,789 as of Monday morning compared to about 25,000 in the last mid-term in 2014. Turnout for midterm elections in Mississippi is usually about half of the turnout for general elections or presidential elections. In the 2016 presidential election, about 120,000 absentee ballots were requested, according to the Secretary of State’s office.

Based on the high number of absentee ballot requests and other factors, Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann predicted the turnout Tuesday will set a record for midterm elections in Mississippi.

Part of the reason for the high enthusiasm level is the unusual circumstance of having both U.S. Senate posts on the ballot. Wicker already was scheduled to run for a new six year term. The special election was necessitated by Sen. Thad Cochran’s retirement earlier this year for health reasons.

In 2008, both Mississippi senators were on the ballot when Trent Lott retired in the middle of his term. The 2008 special election, a presidential election year, is when Wicker was first elected. Wicker is considered the heavy favorite against Baria this year, according to polls.

Justin Brasell, a spokesman for Wicker, said the incumbent is not taking the election for granted.

“We have volunteers making calls and knocking on doors to try to help turn out supporters.  We’re making preparations for a great election night event,” he said.

At a crowded Bully’s restaurant in Jackson on Monday, Baria dined with Espy and  Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba.

Bobby Harrison, Mississippi Today

Democratic candidates in the state’s two Senate races, David Baria, far right, and Mike Espy, center, dine at Bully’s Monday with Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba, left, and Donald Temple of Washington, D.C., who was an Espy classmate at University of Santa Clara.

“This is the most important election of our lifetime,” Baria said at Bully’s. Baria said a Democratic victory is needed to put a check on what he called the inflammatory rhetoric of President Donald Trump and to put in policies to help working Mississippians.

Espy said after dining that “the spirit is high” and that work has been done to ensure people are motivated to vote Tuesday.

“That is about all we are doing right now,” he said.

Danny Blanton, a spokesman for Espy said, “We feel really good leading up to election day. We’re meeting with people all across the state, and they’re all very energized and excited…We’re meeting with voters all day today and we will close the day with a very special faith event with the Mississippi Mass Choir tonight at 5:30 p.m. at Anderson United Methodist Church. We see a definite path to victory and we’re excited about tomorrow.”

People with questions about voting Tuesday, can go to the Secretary of State’s web page at www.yallvote.sos.ms.gov or call 1-800-829-6786.