Polls of the blanket primary show Espy and Hyde-Smith roughly tied for first with about 30 percent of the vote each, and McDaniel some ways behind in the high teens, with a substantial number of undecided voters. None of those numbers are too surprising; President Trump endorsed Hyde-Smith, although she was ahead of McDaniel even before the endorsement. So there’s likely to be a runoff and it’s likely to feature Espy against Hyde-Smith.
There’s also polling of potential runoff matchups, however, and in those polls, Espy does surprisingly well — at least as compared to how the fundamentals might expect him to do. On average, he trails Hyde-Smith by only about 6 percentage points in head-to-head polls and leads McDaniel in a potential runoff by about 18 points. So the Lite version of our model, which forecasts the runoff based on polls only, gives Espy a decent shot of beating Hyde-Smith (and assumes he’d crush McDaniel on the off-chance McDaniel made the runoff instead). The Classic and Deluxe versions, by contrast, which account for fundamentals, consider that Mississippi is a red state and that the two Republicans are likely to get significantly more votes combined than the two Democrats (Espy and Bartee) on Nov. 6, which is historically a good predictor of runoff results. Thus, they see Espy as a fairly heavy underdog against Hyde-Smith, and also think he could have a tough time with McDaniel despite leading him in polls.