The new political template based on Mississippi, Florida, and Georgia

To no one’s surprise, Cindy Hyde-Smith won the run-off election for Mississippi’s senate seat over Democrat Mike Espy by 54-46%. So if you are keeping score, it is not enough for a candidate to be a stone-cold racist to lose the backing of Republican voters in a deep-red state. You have to be a stone-cold racist plus a religious nutcase plus a borderline pedophile to even barely lose, as was the case with Roy Moore in Alabama.

But the news in Mississippi was not good for Republicans since the blue wave even showed its effect there. It was just not enough to swing the result in Espy;s favor.

In last night’s Senate runoff in Mississippi, appointed Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, R-Miss., defeated Democrat Mike Espy by 8 points, 54 percent to 46 percent. That’s down from Trump’s 18-point advantage in the state in 2016 and former Sen. Thad Cochran’s 22-point win there in 2014.

Indeed, Espy’s 10-point over-performance from the 2016 presidential results is close to the average of Democrats’ showing in the eight other major special elections of the 2018 cycle — from GA-6 to the Roy Moore vs. Doug Jones Senate race in Alabama.

As Andra Gillespie writes, even though Espy, Andrew Gillum in Florida, and Stacey Abrams in Georgia all lost their races, the very closeness of the outcomes, especially for Gillum and Abrams, “help to dismantle the implied fear of many Democratic observers that black candidates cannot be viable statewide candidates, especially in the Deep South.” She says that Abrams has created a new template, forsaking the old Democratic one that took black votes for granted and is laying the groundwork for future success.

In lieu of willing black candidates, Georgia Democrats have often nominated centrist white candidates such as Roy Barnes or Jason Carter. They hope such candidates will win back working class or suburban white voters who started leaving the party after the civil rights movement and first helped to deliver the governor’s mansion to the Republicans in 2002.

Usually, regardless of their race, both the white and black Democratic candidates ended up losing.

In this context, Abrams offered a new path – one that did not pay off in this election, but will likely reap dividends in the long run.

Abrams proposed expanding the Democratic Party base in Georgia through voter registration and intensive voter mobilization designed to drive up turnout.

Her campaign invested in canvassing and phone banking operations, taking to heart the lessons imparted by scholars like Don Green and Alan Gerber, who demonstrated how canvassing and live phone banking increases voter turnout.

Abrams radically asserted a strategy premised not on trying to woo back whites who had left the Democratic Party long ago, but focused on building a new base of voters of color, whose population in Georgia is growing.

Proportionally, Abrams earned slightly more support among white voters than Jason Carter, the last Democratic gubernatorial nominee. Thus, she outperformed her white Democratic predecessors using a wide-ranging and inclusive strategy.

Repeatedly, especially in state and local races, listening to formerly neglected voters about their concerns and responding with platforms that address them has turned out to be an effective strategy.

Anyway, the last undecided congressional seat has come in and it was in California where a Republican seat flipped to a Democrat. The final tally is a 235-200 majority for Democrats in the next Congress, a swing of 40 seats from the last Congress, well above the 23-seat swing needed to gain a majority and also exceeded the 32-seat gain that was predicted going into the election.

It was definitely a blue wave election.


  1. ridana says

    The other interesting bit that I haven’t seen anyone mention is that Republican Chris McDaniel got 16.5% of the vote in the first round (Democrat Tobey Bartee got 1.4%), which presumably is why they needed the runoff. It’s hard to say without more data and exit polls, but am I wrong that it appears that at least some portion of McDaniel’s voters threw their vote to Espy in the runoff? 2600 more votes were cast on the runoff, too, but who did the new voters vote for (if some number failed to vote again in the runoff, there were likely more than 2600 new voters)?

    Hyde-Smith picked up an additional 110,000 votes in the runoff, while Espy took in about 50,000 more. McDaniels garnered 146,000 in the first election. Even with Bartee’s 12K votes and at least 2600 new voters, it looks to me that Espy won over about a third of McDaniels’ Republican voters (or H-S turned them away from her). If my math hasn’t completely failed me (and I don’t math very good these days), I’d say that’s a little glint of good news.

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