Biden defeats Sanders in Mississippi Democratic primary; Hyde-Smith, Espy set to face off again

Print Share on LinkedIn More

Eric J. Shelton/Mississippi Today, Report For America

Supporters listen as Joe Biden speaks during the Get Out and Vote event at Tougaloo College’s Kroger Gymnasium Sunday, March 8, 2020.

Democrats Joe Biden and Mike Espy both earned substantial victories in Tuesday’s Democratic primary in Mississippi, and the state’s four incumbent congressmen cruised to decisive victories in their primaries.

Biden, the former vice president, received strong support in the African American community as he easily outdistanced U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont in the presidential primary.

Tuesday’s results mark the second straight presidential election where Sanders struggled mightily in Mississippi. In the 2016 Democratic primary for president, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, also buoyed by strong support in the African American community, captured 83 percent of the vote against Sanders.

Biden had the support of many of the state’s Democratic leaders, including, according to their caucus chairs, all Democrats serving in the Legislature. Sanders was endorsed by Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba, a key endorsement target of 2020 presidential candidates, but that endorsement was not enough to offset Biden’s advantages in the state.

President Donald Trump easily carried the GOP vote and the state in the Republican primary.

Mississippi was one of six states holding primaries on Tuesday, and it was the only state with congressional primaries.

Espy, the first African American elected to the U.S. House from Mississippi in the modern era and a former U.S. secretary of agriculture, easily outdistanced two opponents Tobey Bartee and Jensen Bohren to win the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate.

In the November general election, Espy will face incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, who did not face a primary challenger on Tuesday.

Hyde-Smith was appointed to the post in early 2018 by then-Gov. Phil Bryant to replace long-time Sen. Thad Cochran who resigned for health reasons. Later that year Hyde-Smith defeated Espy in a special election. Espy, who garnered more than 46 percent of the vote in the special election, has said he is better prepared for the rematch in 2020. He pointed out he had not been in elected office in Mississippi since the early 1990s and that he needed time to re-acquaint himself with voters.

When Hyde-Smith won the 2018 special election, there was speculation that she would face a primary challenge. But the state’s Republican establishment rallied around Hyde-Smith.

Hyde-Smith is the first woman to represent Mississippi in a federally elected office. If Espy wins this November, he would be the first African American elected to represent Mississippi in the U.S. Senate.

Dozens of people gathered Tuesday night at Johnny T’s Bistro in downtown Jackson for a joint Biden-Espy watch party. Biden was declared the winner of the primary when polls closed at 7 p.m., and Espy was declared the winner of the primary around 8:15 p.m.

Shortly after the race was called, Espy turned his complete focus to November’s general election.

“What’s next is building the greatest coalition in Mississippi’s history,” Espy told Mississippi Today. “I’m under no illusions — it’s going to be difficult to do, but we’re going to do it.”

Espy said his general election strategy will be two-fold: increase black voter turnout and work to convince suburban, college educated voters to vote against Hyde-Smith.

“We’re gonna go back (to suburban areas) now that I’m the official nominee and talk to them in their living rooms about the promise of Mississippi — what I want it to look like in two decades against what Hyde-Smith wants it to look like,” Espy said.

He sharply critiqued Hyde-Smith’s record since she got to Washington.

“She’s an incumbent, so usually that’s an advantage. This year, I think it’s actually a disadvantage because she’s showing us who she is. She hasn’t done anything. And what she’s done, the generic votes have been promoted by Mitch McConnell. To me, she’s the third Kentucky senator. She hasn’t done anything; she’ll do what he tells her to do.”

In the congressional races, all four incumbents — Democrat Bennie Thompson of the 2nd District and Republicans Trent Kelly of 1st District, Michael Guest of the 3rd District and Steven Palazzo of the 4th District — advanced to the general election with no runoffs.

Palazzo will be unopposed in November. The other three incumbents face November opponents, though all three will be heavily favored.