Democrat Mike Espy is challenging Republican Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith this November.

Two months from Election Day during one of the most uncertain political moments in American history, we asked top Mississippi politicos to share their thoughts on the 2020 U.S. Senate race between Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith and Mike Espy.

Hyde-Smith, the Republican incumbent, has struggled to raise cash this cycle and has not yet built much campaign infrastructure, but she is banking on proxy support from President Donald Trump. Espy has built as robust a campaign as any Mississippi Democrat and hopes to break yet another racial barrier in his long political career.

Click on the names of political experts below to read more about what they think of the 2020 Senate race.

STUART STEVENS, best-selling author and longtime Republican political consultant who has been a top strategist for numerous presidential and congressional campaigns.

“I would think it would be a true statement to say that Mike Espy is in the business of getting votes,” Stevens said. “Cindy Hyde-Smith is in the business of not losing votes. I would much rather be in the business of getting votes.”

PAM SHAW, a longtime strategist who has focused her career in Mississippi politics on reaching and turning out Black voters.

“If you’re a Democrat, you can always count on older Black folk to show up,” Shaw said. “But you can’t count on them to show up during this pandemic. I know older Black people who haven’t missed a vote in many, many cycles who have not been out of their house since March. That has to be a very real concern (for Espy).”

HENRY BARBOUR, a longtime Republican strategist for national and statewide candidates and Mississippi Republican national committeeman.

“I tend to think that Trump voters are more likely to turn out in Mississippi than the folks wanting to beat Trump,” Barbour said. “I think that Cindy Hyde-Smith has an advantage there that she’ll get to ride with a big presidential turnout.”

MARVIN KING, associate professor of political science at the University of Mississippi.

“I think (Hyde-Smith’s) strategy of laying low is safe because she had some major gaffes in 2018,” King said. “As long as you’re polling ahead, despite not raising as much money recently, and as long as Trump is polling ahead, she can just say, ‘I’m a Trump Republican.’ That might be all she needs to do or say. My guess is her advisers know that.”

NATHAN SHRADER, chair of the Department of Government and Politics at Millsaps College.

“That has been my past impression of (Hyde-Smith’s) strategy, to ride on the coattails of the president,” Shrader said. “Think back to the special election in 2018 – Donald Trump’s visit. Part of his rhetoric was pretend I’m on the ballot when you go to vote for Cindy. Now she doesn’t have to rely on pretending he’s on the ballot.”

D’ANDRA OREY, professor of political science at Jackson State University.

“The aftermath of George Floyd’s death has illuminated stark racial, social and economic disparities that grossly impact African Americans,” Orey said. “Those viewing race relations through a more conservative lens may have framed the violence that has taken place as ‘riots’ and ‘looting’ being conducted by ‘thugs.’ These voters will be more attracted to law and order campaign messages.”

MARTY WISEMAN, longtime Mississippi politico and professor at Mississippi State University.

“I think Espy has got a shot, but everything has to fall perfectly,” Wiseman said. “People would have to turn out to vote who probably haven’t turned out to vote since the Obama races in ’08 and ’12.”


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Geoff Pender serves as senior political reporter, working closely with Mississippi Today leadership on editorial strategy and investigations. Pender brings 30 years of political and government reporting experience to Mississippi Today. He was political and investigative editor at the Clarion Ledger, where he also penned a popular political column. He previously served as an investigative reporter and political editor at the Sun Herald, where he was a member of the Pulitzer Prize-winning team for Hurricane Katrina coverage. Originally from Florence, Mississippi, Pender is a journalism graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi and has received numerous awards throughout his career for reporting, columns and freedom of information efforts.

Adam Ganucheau, as Mississippi Today's editor-in-chief, oversees the newsroom and works with the editorial team to fulfill our mission of producing high-quality journalism in the public interest. Adam has covered politics and state government for Mississippi Today since February 2016. A native of Hazlehurst, Adam has worked as a staff reporter for AL.com, The Birmingham News and The Clarion-Ledger and his work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post and Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Adam earned his bachelor’s in journalism from the University of Mississippi.