Reports filed Thursday show Democratic challenger Mike Espy outraised incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith more than 4-to-1 between July and September.
Espy raised more than $4 million for the quarter, bringing his total for the race to $5.3 million. Hyde-Smith raised less than $815,000 for the quarter, and $2.85 million total.
Espy’s report showed he had $3.17 million cash on hand at the end of September. Hyde-Smith’s showed she had nearly $1.5 million.
Espy appears to be using his more than 2-to-1 cash advantage by vastly out-advertising Hyde-Smith so far in the critical home stretch before the Nov. 3 election, flooding the airwaves across Mississippi with his messaging. Espy this week is spending $1.01 million on television and radio ads, according to FCC reports, compared to Hyde-Smith spending just $147,000.
Espy’s latest influx of cash is part of a national wave of mostly small donations to Democratic congressional campaigns after U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death, although Espy has outraised Hyde-Smith in all but one reporting period this election cycle.
“This is a well-funded campaign,” Espy said this week, but he said that more importantly, his is a well-organized campaign that can quickly put the influx of money to use in getting his message out and turning out voters.
“We have the best data set, numbers and algorithms,” Espy said. “… There are 100,000 African Americans in Mississippi who haven’t voted since President Obama in 2008. We know who they are, have their emails and cell numbers and addresses. We have 40 to 50 people out knocking on doors — of course, wearing Espy for Senate masks and gloves and PPE.”
Espy said he believes his message is also reaching, and resonating with, white voters.
“I want to represent all of Mississippi,” Espy said, repeating a refrain he’s used since he announced his candidacy in 2019.
Hyde-Smith’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment on Thursday.
Austin Barbour, a state and national GOP strategist and fundraiser, said Espy’s record fundraising hauls will be a boon to his campaign, but questioned whether it would be enough to overcome Hyde-Smith’s lead in a very red state.
“Money moves the needle, yes — allows you to put your message out,” Barbour said. “But the president (Trump) is going to get a tremendous turnout in Mississippi, and Sen. Hyde-Smith is going to benefit from that massive turnout. That allows her campaign not to have to rely so much on campaign funds for television.”
Barbour continued: “What she’s got to do in these closing three weeks is with the dollars she has, she has to remind, not show but remind, voters, ‘I’m the conservative,’ and Mike Espy representing Mississippi would be a liberal member of the Senate trying to represent a conservative state … I think it’s a really easy thing to do because of her record, and because of the things Mike Espy has campaigned on, and Mike Espy would put things that much closer to Democrats having a majority in the Senate.”
Barbour said Espy’s raising and spending has been “unheard of for a Democrat” in Mississippi in recent history, but noted most of the bounty is from the national “Democratic machine” and not a groundswell of support in the state.
Barbour said that in the pandemic, with limits on in-person campaigning and door knocking, television and other broadcast advertising will likely be a key factor in the race.
“I think you could argue more people are watching television, glued to it,” Barbour said. “It can be particularly effective in Mississippi because we are not overwhelmed with TV campaign ads like people in Georgia or South Carolina or Arizona are.”
Michael Rejebian, who has worked on multiple campaigns, said a sizable fundraising advantage for a Democrat can help level the playing field in a deep red state like Mississippi.
“The best problem any campaign can have is how to spend money you may not have anticipated having,” said Rejebian, who worked on Democrat Jim Hood’s 2019 gubernatorial campaign that was significantly outraised by eventual winner Republican Tate Reeves.
“Putting that money into an air and ground war to attract undecided voters and increase turnout among supporters is crucial as a campaign enters the final weeks. You can increase your TV, radio, digital, mail and field operations, which certainly helps level the playing field when you’re running as a Democrat in a deep red state. The challenges are still there, of course, but they may not look so daunting when your bank account is healthy.”
Mississippi State University political scientist Marty Wiseman said it is highly unusual in Mississippi for a Democratic candidate to outraise a Republican opponent.
“It is unheard of for a Republican incumbent in Mississippi to be outraised by a challenger,” Wiseman said. “I guess her campaign feels the money is not necessary.”
Instead of focusing primarily on television and internet advertising, Wiseman said Espy should invest in “putting boots on the ground” in Democratic strongholds to turn out voters.
“That takes a lot of work,” he said, but concluded Espy might have a chance based on what appears to be many Republicans taking the race for granted and Hyde-Smith’s often sparse campaigning.
But he cautioned: “You see time and time again in Mississippi where the Democratic candidate looks promising, but then the Democratic candidate ends up claiming a moral victory with 47% of the vote.”