After three weeks of depressing results from close races in the U.S. House, Republicans on Tuesday got a dose of good news as Mississippi GOP Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith won a special Senate runoff election, defeating ex-Rep. Mike Espy (R-MS), and giving Republicans a three seat majority in the 116th Congress which begins in January.
Hyde-Smith’s victory came a day after both President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence went to Mississippi to make last minute campaign appearances, a state where one recent poll showed the President’s approval rating almost 20 points above his national average.
“Donald Trump has a 56% approval rating in Mississippi, which is good news for Cindy Hyde-Smith,” said GOP pollster Frank Luntz before the polls closed.
The final Hyde-Smith margin was much less than President Trump’s victory in 2016 in Mississippi, when he defeated Hillary Clinton by nearly 18 percent. With 99 percent of precincts reporting, Hyde-Smith led Espy by just under eight percent.
Appointed to the Senate earlier this year after the resignation of Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS), Hyde-Smith made history with her election, becoming the first woman to be elected to the Senate from the Magnolia State.
Hyde-Smith had been dogged by some controversy in recent weeks, after comments she made regarding public hangings, and efforts to make it harder for Democrats to vote in more liberal areas of the state – but unlike last year’s upset Senate win in Alabama, Democrats were unable to repeat that outcome in Mississippi.
Hyde-Smith will now fill out the final two years of the term of former Sen. Cochran, who left after serving over 40 years in the Senate; Hyde-Smith’s seat will be up for re-election again in 2020.
The victory for the GOP continued a Senate streak in Mississippi which stretches back to 1982, when Sen. John Stennis (D-MS) won re-election – the last Democrat to win from the Magnolia State.
Hyde-Smith had made sure to stick closely to the President in recent months, repeatedly touting his support and charging that Espy was too liberal for her state.
The win was a much needed change of pace for Republicans, who at one point on Election Night seemed to be on the verge of a stunning gain of as many as six seats in the U.S. Senate.
But a win for Democrats in Montana, and then victories in GOP seats in Nevada and Arizona limited any Republican gains.
Republicans did prevail in a recount in Florida, where Gov. Rick Scott (R) defeated incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), giving the GOP a gain of two seats in the 2018 mid-terms, taking the GOP from a 51-49 majority to one with more breathing room at 53-47.
The 116th Congress will convene on January 3, 2019.