Mike Espy outraised GOP incumbent Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith in latest campaign finance reporting period

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Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith still holds a more than $500,000 cash on hand advantage to Mike Espy.

Democrat Mike Espy raised more money than Republican U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith in the final reporting period before the March 10 primary, according to finance reports released Thursday by the campaigns.

Espy, a former Democratic congressman and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture under President Bill Clinton, raised $215,000 between Jan. 1 and Feb. 19. Hyde-Smith, the GOP incumbent who defeated Espy in a contentious 2018 special election runoff, raised $171,000 in the same time period.

“We are excited and proud of the amazing grassroots support for Mike’s campaign,” said Joe O’Hern, Espy’s campaign manager. “With over 6,000 individuals already having donated to the campaign, it is clear early on where the excitement and energy is. Sen. Hyde-Smith has low approval ratings and Mike is already polling within single digits of her. It’s clear voters are already looking for a change in Mississippi.”

Espy faces two Democratic primary challengers on March 10, while Hyde-Smith is uncontested in the Republican primary. Despite being outraised by Espy in the most recent filing report, Hyde-Smith still holds a more than $500,000 cash on hand advantage to Espy.

“We’ve had very successful fundraising events all over the state in the last week that weren’t reflected in the report,” said Justin Brasell, Hyde-Smith’s campaign spokesman. “We feel good about where we are and where we’ll be for the full first quarter through March 31.”

Since the 2020 cycle began, Hyde-Smith has raised less cash than 96 incumbent U.S. senators. The three senators who have raised less than Hyde-Smith this cycle — Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas, Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Sen. Mike Enzi of Wyoming — announced last year they would not seek re-election in 2020.

Some of Hyde-Smith’s struggles to raise cash this cycle may be carry-over from controversy she created during the 2018 campaign. Hyde-Smith made several remarks on the trail — including saying she would attend a “public hanging” — that garnered national scrutiny and inspired numerous corporations including Major League Baseball, AT&T, Union Pacific, Aetna, Pfizer, Google and Facebook to ask Hyde-Smith to return their previous contributions.

The Hyde-Smith campaign downplayed the low fundraising marks earlier this month, after the previous reports were released publicly.

Adam Ganucheau | Mississippi Today

U.S. Senate candidate Tobey Bartee addresses the Mississippi Economic Council at its annual Hobnob event.

The other two Democratic challengers — Tobey Bartee and Jensen Bohren — have not filed a single finance report with the Federal Election Commission this cycle.

If Espy wins the primary, his candidacy is expected to again garner national interest and an influx of national cash.

In 2018, Espy raised $7.5 million compared to $5.5 million for the victorious Hyde-Smith, becoming the first Democrat in several statewide elections to outraise a Republican opponent. Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez told Mississippi Today in late 2019 the national party would invest in Mississippi for the third straight election year.