Upset brewing in Mississippi Senate runoff?

Could Republicans blow a Senate special election in the South for the second time in two years? Tomorrow, Mississippi voters go to the polls to choose the person who will fill the final two years of Thad Cochran’s term in the upper chamber. Republican Cindy Hyde-Smith should be sailing to a victory in the deep-red state, but Politico reports that the GOP is worried about a repeat of Alabama’s 2017 debacle:

A swirl of controversy surrounding the Republican senator — stirred up by her comment about attending a “public hanging” — has given Democrat Mike Espy momentum in the home stretch, officials from both parties say. Hyde-Smith has never trailed in polling, and Democrats acknowledge she’s likely to win, but they argue that her flubs have given Espy a very narrow opening if everything breaks his way.

Henry Barbour, the Republican National Committee committeeman and a longtime Mississippi operative, said base voters in both parties are energized, but gave a slight edge to Espy’s supporters. He said he expects Hyde-Smith to win on Tuesday, though he added that Republicans should be concerned about the potential for weak turnout.

“I think Espy supporters are probably a little more energized than Hyde-Smith,” Barbour said. “But I do think conservative voters realize this race is going to decide if we have a conservative or liberal representing us in Washington and that is very motivating to conservative voters.

“We don’t want to have an Alabama,” he added, referring to Republican Roy Moore’s 2017 loss to Democrat Doug Jones in a special Senate election in the deep-red state.

Hyde-Smith isn’t Roy Moore, but she hasn’t been free of controversy either. Allahpundit wrote last week about the fallout among corporate donors over Hyde-Smith’s “public hanging” quip, which demonstrated a peculiar sense of rhetorical judgment on the nominee’s part. Roy Moore’s alleged actions and clearly intentional rhetorical bombasts are a far cry from Hyde-Smith’s foot-in-mouth moments here, but the issue isn’t whether one can make academic distinctions between the two; it’s how voters react to it that matters.

Last week, a GOP internal poll put Espy within five points, indicating that voters were reacting to Hyde-Smith … badly. For contrast, consider that Republican Roger Wicker just won another term in Mississippi’s other Senate seat by a 19-point margin three weeks ago. However, a new poll out from a partnership between two partisan operations shows Hyde-Smith with a more comfortable — and perhaps more expected — ten-point lead:

Ahead of Tuesday’s runoff election, a new poll from RRH Elections with Bold Blue Campaigns and JMC Analytics & Polling of 684 likely voters in Mississippi shows appointed Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R) with a significant lead in the runoff election to hold her Senate seat. The survey shows Hyde-Smith leading former Rep. and Clinton U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Mike Espy (D) by a margin of 54% to 44%, with just 1% undecided at this late date. The survey was conducted November 19-21 and 23-24, 2018 with 684 Live Response calls by Bold Blue Campaigns and JMC Analytics & Polling, and has a margin of error of +/- 4%.

RRH, a conservative grassroots site, crowd-funded the poll in partnership with Bold Blue Campaigns, a progressive action group. It’s a good enough survey for RealClearPolitics to have included it in its aggregation for the runoff, perhaps in part due to the paucity of polling available. It falls within the range of RCP’s pre-Election Day polling in the race, all of which showed Hyde-Smith up by double digits over Espy in a two-person race.

This sample overstated Espy’s first-round vote while understating Chris McDaniel’s by small amounts, but Hyde-Smith still winds up significantly ahead in this likely-voter pool. Both candidates hold their voters from the first round, but that’s not enough for Espy. Hyde-Smith captures 100% of the McDaniel vote, which was the difference in forcing the runoff in the first place. On top of that, Hyde-Smith leads among both men and women and in every age demo, none of which is too surprising in a state Donald Trump won by nearly 18 points two years ago.

Speaking of which, the GOP is taking no chances. They’re sending Trump out for not one but two rallies today to pull Hyde-Smith across the finish line:

Hyde-Smith is making the election about Trump, too:

She has a 100 percent “Trump score,” which is a measure of how often a member votes in line with Trump’s position, according to FiveThirtyEight. And in the Senate she is only joined on the list by Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl, who was appointed to fill the late-Sen. John McCain’s seat, and former Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, who was fired earlier this month as Trump’s attorney general.

And on the campaign trail, Hyde-Smith was stitching the president’s remarks into her own, showing her fealty to Trump with voters.

“We’ve got a president that is a leader,” she told a small crowd in Nesbit earlier this month.

Her campaign strategy to win over Trump’s voting bloc has been successful and voters have said that they see Hyde-Smith as the only candidate who will advance the president’s agenda.

Hyde-Smith will likely survive tomorrow, but she’d better get a better grip on her tongue over the next two years. It’ll still be a race worth watching.