Republican Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith defeats Democrat Mike Espy for full six-year term

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U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith celebrates with her family standing in the background at her election night party in Jackson on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith was reelected Tuesday, defeating Democratic challenger Mike Espy, according to unofficial results tallied by the Associated Press.

“What we found out today is Mississippi is not for sale,” Hyde-Smith said, referring to Espy out-raising and out-spending her campaign at least 2-1. “The only thing better than beating Mike Espy is beating him twice.”

“It was good and evil on the ballot today,” Hyde-Smith told a crowd Tuesday night at the state Agriculture Museum, where dozens of her supporters gathered for a watch party. “It was protecting the lives of the unborn … It was protecting our Second Amendment rights.

“… God is so good,” Hyde-Smith continued. “He has provided … It looks like President Trump is in pretty good shape tonight, too.”

Republican Gov. Tate Reeves introduced Hyde-Smith at her victory party and predicted other GOP wins Tuesday night.

“Not only are we in Mississippi electing a conservative to the U.S. Senate, but electing someone to go back to Washington and still be in the majority in the United States Senate,” Reeves said, “and that’s critically important.”

Hyde-Smith, 61, is a cattle farmer, former state agriculture commissioner and a former state senator. She served as a Democrat for much of her time in the Legislature before switching parties in 2010 before her statewide run for agriculture commissioner.

Espy, 66, is an attorney and former U.S. secretary of agriculture in the Clinton administration and former U.S. representative from 1987-1993. He was the first African American to represent Mississippi in Congress since Reconstruction.

The race was a rematch. Espy and Hyde-Smith squared off in a 2018 special election after Hyde-Smith was temporarily appointed to the Senate seat by Gov. Phil Bryant after the late Sen. Thad Cochran resigned. Hyde-Smith ultimately won that race, in a runoff, 53.6% to Espy’s 46.4%. The 2018 special election generated large turnout for an election held in a non-presidential year with more than 800,000 voting, but the turnout was much less than the estimated 1.3 million who voted this year.

This year’s rematch was not expected to be competitive, with Mississippi one of the reddest states in the country and Donald Trump atop the ticket and Hyde-Smith being one of his staunchest supporters in the Senate. Riding an apparent large lead, Hyde-Smith ran a low-key campaign, with few open-to-the-public appearances. She refused to debate Espy even as he flooded the airwaves with ads and had a large, well-funded field operation.

The Espy campaign, which followed strict COVID-19 guidelines, held an understated post-election event with a limited number of attendees at the Mississippi Two Museums Tuesday night. As it became obvious that Espy would not succeed, the mood became more somber, but most of the small group of attendees remained until what was the bitter end.

A subdued Espy told the news media after the race was called that he believed he ran the best campaign he could, but a strong showing by the president in Mississippi helped carry Hyde-Smith to victory.

Thanking his staff, volunteers and supporters, Espy said, “I think we ran a good race. I know I left it all on the field…We did all we could do to win this race, but it was not enough.”

Democratic Senate challenger Mike Espy concedes to incumbent Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith at the Mississippi Two Museums on Nov. 3, 2020.

Espy congratulated Hyde-Smith, but did not back away from a common theme from his campaign that his opponent was an ineffective senator.

“She won tonight. I congratulate her,” he said. “She will do what she will do…I still think she is holding Mississippi back, but that opinion did not prevail.”

Espy, who raised a record amount of money for a Democratic candidate in the state, said he left an infrastructure, including data and other information, that can be useful to help the struggling state Democratic Party.

“We built an infrastructure. We built a bridge,” he said. “Even though I was not able to cross that bridge, others after me will be able to.”

Campaign Manager Joe O’Hearn said, “I think Mike has built something special here that put Mississippi on the map as a battleground state.”

The race received scant national attention until late in the cycle, after Espy appeared to gain some momentum and the national Democratic Party apparatus provided him some eleventh-hour financial support.

Espy’s campaign outraised Hyde-Smith for most of the election cycle — unheard of for a Mississippi Democrat against an incumbent GOP senator. The final tally is expected to show him leading at least 2-1 in fundraising. Espy was buoyed by a nationwide flood of cash to Democratic congressional candidates, and the campaign’s final full finance reports before Tuesday showed Espy had raised nearly $9.3 million as of Oct. 14. Hyde-Smith had raised just under $3 million.