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Nation’s eyes on Senate race

The late Tip O’Neill famously said, “all politics is local.” 

Tuesday will determine if all politics, from California to New York City, is local to Brookhaven.

U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, an Ole Brook Republican, is favored to make an expected runoff after the Tuesday special election against challengers Mike Espy, a Democrat and former Clinton administration cabinet member; Chris McDaniel, a Republican state representative and Tea Party scion; and Tobey Bernard Bartee, a Navy man and intelligence analyst. Hyde-Smith was appointed by Gov. Phil Bryant on March 21 to fulfill the unexpired term of former U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran, who stepped down due to health reasons with four years remaining on his term.

Polls predict Hyde-Smith, a former state agriculture commissioner and longtime state senator, will make a Nov. 27 runoff, likely against Espy. She’d be favored in that race, too, but events elsewhere in the nation could make a Hyde-Smith runoff critical to the national balance of political power.

If projections that Republicans win Senate seats in North Dakota, but Democrats take Arizona and Nevada, come true after Tuesday, each party would control 50 seats in the Senate, and the Mississippi runoff would decide the chamber’s majority — and which party controls national decision-making for the remaining two years of Donald Trump’s presidency. 

In that scenario, it is likely tremendous amounts of campaign cash would flow in to both candidates while the nation watched Mississippi, closely, for the three-week run to Nov. 27. So far, Hyde-Smith has collected $2.99 million in contributions, while Espy has gathered in $1.96 million. 

McDaniel follows with around $1 million — his campaign reported $532,000 as of Oct. 17, but a super PAC sent him another half-million dollars on Oct. 25 — while Bartee’s campaign has raised just $4,000.

Current polls have Hyde-Smith at 38 percent, with Espy at 29 percent, McDaniel at 15 percent and Bartee unmentioned. Hyde-Smith has the edge on paper, while Espy is hoping to follow in the footsteps of Doug Jones, who surprised the nation with a Democratic Senate victory in Alabama last year.

If Hyde-Smith ropes up the required 50 percent of the vote, plus one vote, Nov. 27 will be just another day and Republicans will continue to carry all of Mississippi, as the party has done since the retirement of John C. Stennis in 1989.

If the polls fall flat — they get it wrong sometimes, as they did in the 2016 presidential race — and the runoff pits Hyde-Smith against McDaniel, the Republican Party can breathe easier, but Mississippians won’t.

Polls or no polls, McDaniel has a passionate base and has proven he can move in for the kill, just not that he can make it. He almost unseated Cochran in a runoff in 2014, and has been fangs-out against Hyde-Smith at every opportunity, calling up her long history as a Democrat, alleging she voted for Hillary Clinton and challenging her to debates. Hyde-Smith has refused to debate anyone in the race, instead traveling the state on a bus tour and protecting her exposure.

Trump has recently campaigned for Hyde-Smith in Mississippi and made it known she’s his preferred candidate. Senate watchdogs have reported she has supported the Trump agenda with every vote in 2018 — a claim no other Senator can make.

“I’ve been a conservative all my life, and I’m very proud of my conservative record as a three-term state senator. You know the good thing about being in the Legislature is there’s a paper trail — it’s a long paper trail,” Hyde-Smith said during her appointment speech. “They record every vote we have. I have a record of conservatism, a record of accomplishments and getting things done for you, and that’s exactly what I will do for you as your U.S. senator.”

Hyde-Smith has stayed the course with Trump, despite economic harm some of his policies are causing for Mississippi farmers, a group in which she and her family are members.

“Our country is better off right now than it was two years ago,” Hyde-Smith told hundreds of businesspeople at Hobnob recently, a social event sponsored by Mississippi Economic Council.

Espy did not mention Hyde-Smith by name at the event, but criticized her for saying she votes 100 percent with Trump.

“I promise you that I’m going to be an independent voice for Mississippi, a thoughtful presence in the Senate, working with you to make things better,” said Espy, a former congressman and former U.S. agriculture secretary. “I will be a strong voice and not a weak echo.”

“As your senator, I’m not going to let anything or anyone rush me to judgment,” Espy said in a campaign email. “Not Chuck Schumer or Nancy Pelosi. Not anyone from either party. Because when we put party first, all it does is divide us.”

McDaniel said the U.S. should resist a “lurch toward socialism.”

“For 100 years the same power structure, the same machine, the same good ole boys, helped run our economic system — more centralized than not, more based in favoritism than not, more based in cronyism than not, to satisfy the donor class but leaving regular Mississippians out of the fight,” McDaniel said. “Those days have to come to an end.”

“To the extent that we’re talking about draining the swamp to defend our principles against an establishment that’s out of control, we’ve been doing that for years,” McDaniel said.

Bartee, at the Hobnob event, said the U.S. needs to improve infrastructure and education but because of political divisions, “we’re not having the conversations that we have to have to position us for success in the future.”

“I believe in command of policy and I believe in command of process,” Bartee said. “There is no issue that I will not unpack in all of its complexity.”