MS Senate race to replace Cochran attracts national attention

MISSISSIPPI (WMC) - Governor Phil Bryant appointed the first female U.S. Senator from Mississippi--Cindy Hyde-Smith, who's currently the state's commissioner of agriculture.

But her fight to keep the seat that Thad Cochran vacated is shaping up to be one with national implications.

"It is an occasion that will affect all Mississippians, I believe, for all generations to come," Bryant said when introducing Hyde-Smith in her hometown of Brookhaven.

"The history of this moment is not lost on me, Governor," Hyde-Smith said.

The retirement of longtime Senator Thad Cochran has set up a showdown in Mississippi over who will take his spot. A special election is set for November.

State Senator Chris McDaniel, who narrowly lost to Cochran in a 2014 primary race for the U.S. Senate, pulled out of November's Senate race against Sen. Roger Wicker in order to try to land Sen. Cochran's seat.

That's why Hyde-Smith's appointment, and presumed candidacy for the seat, is raising eyebrows among some Republicans nationally--namely because Hyde-Smith is a former Democrat.

POLITICO reported White House aides told Bryant that President Donald Trump wouldn't campaign for Hyde-Smith.

"This decision is mine and mine alone," Bryant said.

"This is now just GOP, not even just the state of Mississippi, but national party, one more seat that they have to try to figure out how much resources we have to put in to trying to figure out how to protect it," Conor Dowling, an associate professor of political science at Ole Miss, said.

Dowling added that the Hyde-Smith pick is aimed at icing McDaniel out because of concern from Republicans he may be too conservative to win and could actually drive voters across the aisle.

"By the very nature of the special election, it poses a problem for the GOP," Dowling said. "The Republican party in the state of Mississippi is sort of struggling right now. We don't want to open it up for the chance of a Democrat, so what's the best way to thwart that off."

Former Democratic Mississippi Congressman Mike Espy said he'll run in the special election.

"How good of a chance it is for Democrats to win this seat sort of remains to be seen," Dowling said.

The makeup of the special election itself is interesting because there won't be party names on the ballot, and there is no primary for special elections in Mississippi. The election could move to a runoff format if no candidate gets 50 percent of the votes.

In a statement Wednesday, Chris McDaniel said in part, "the establishment is going to waste millions of dollars on what should have been a safe Republican seat in Mississippi."

Hyde-Smith was elected three times to the Mississippi State Senate as a Democrat before switching to the Republican party in 2010.

The Cook Political Report gave the Hyde-Smith special election race a "likely Republican" designation.

Meanwhile the race in Tennessee between Phil Bredesen and Marsha Blackburn over Bob Corker's seat is a toss up. Republicans hope to hold on to a slim 51 to 49 majority in the Senate through the midterm elections.

"Republicans in various states are worried about Democratic challenges," Dowling said.

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