Hyde-Smith gets a Trump bump

 

If Cindy-Hyde Smith was not the favorite in the upcoming special election for the U.S. Senate, she is now. President Donald Trump endorsed her Thursday night, praising her 100 percent support of his agenda.

Trump wasn’t kidding. The Jackson Clarion Ledger said Hyde-Smith is the only current senator with a perfect voting record on bills that are backed by the president.

Hyde-Smith already had a few months of incumbency working for her. Gov. Phil Bryant promoted her from state agriculture commissioner to Washington when Sen. Thad Cochran resigned earlier this year. But her path to election in November included two strong challengers: state Sen. Chris McDaniel, who nearly beat Cochran in 2014; and former congressman Mike Espy.

Trump’s endorsement is a difference maker for Hyde-Smith. McDaniel scored points when he noted that she had been a Democrat until switching parties in 2010, and he enjoyed asking publicly whether she voted for Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential primary. Now the president says none of that matters.

McDaniel’s campaign this year has not caught fire the way his 2014 effort did. He has not raised nearly as much money as he did then, while Hyde-Smith brought in nearly $2 million during her first three months in office. The Clarion Ledger said several polls showed her gaining support while McDaniel lagged.

Assuming Trump’s supporters in the state follow his lead, the question now is whether Hyde-Smith will win a majority of votes on Nov. 6. Candidates from all parties in the special election are on the same ballot, and if no one gets a majority, the top two advance to a runoff.

Espy, who in 1985 became the state’s first black congressman since Reconstruction, has name recognition and is sure to run strongly among Democratic voters. If there is a runoff, it’s more likely that he’ll be in it against Hyde-Smith. But the state’s demographics and the presidential endorsement make it clear that this special election is Hyde-Smith’s to lose.