Once upon a time in Mississippi, general elections were mere formalities. If you won your party’s primary, you won the election. That is if your party was the Democratic Party.
My career started in Mississippi and I lived there from 1990 to 1997. Once, I was present when some Democrats were on trial for something related to voting in a county supervisor primary. Two of the witnesses were Republican poll workers. When the defense attorney challenged their credibility by asking, how could they witness anything while keeping track of their own primary voters? One of the witnesses explained, “We only had two voters all day. We’re Republicans.” It wasn’t like they had a lot to do but sit at their table and watch all the people, who were their neighbors, working and voting at the Democratic table. The entire courtroom knew this.
Because Democrats had a lock on the state, that doesn’t mean it was a liberal state. If anything, it was more conservative then than it is now. Republicans started to move the state in the early 90s with the election of Kirk Fordice to the Governorship. Today, it’s a solid red state. My point is, Democrat Mike Espy is not going to win in Mississippi for the U.S. Senate Seat.
Espy’s opponent, Cindy Hyde-Smith, is the incumbent Senator, appointed to the post when Thad Cochran retired. She is a terrible candidate. She was caught on a microphone joking about attending a lynching, made another joke about voter suppression, and was photographed wearing Confederate battle garb at the home of Jefferson Davis. But, Mississippi still has the Confederate battle flag as part of the state flag.
The battle flag flag became the state flag in 1894 and was repealed in 1906, but the state ignored that and kept the flag flying for nearly a hundred years before there was a referendum to remove it in 2001. The referendum failed and the state legislature acted swiftly to make the battle flag flag the official state flag. Mississippi voters, by 64%, voted to keep a hate symbol flying.
You would think that Mississippi, which has more African-Americans per capita and more black elected officials than any other state in the nation and had 581 lynchings between 1882 and 1968, would be able to reject a horrible candidate like Hyde-Smith.
The Republican was unable to debate Espy without an advantage. The debate was sponsored by her campaign contributors, and Hyde-Smith demanded that there be no live audience or outside press in attendance. She also demanded that the candidates have access notepads during the debate. And she demanded that a planned segment in which the candidates would ask each other questions be changed, with the questions submitted beforehand and asked by the moderator. It was worse than the new rules Sarah Huckabee Sanders has for White House press briefings.
And yet, even with it scripted, she had difficulty with her apology for the lynching joke. After stumbling over the words (because reading is hard), she blamed others for “twisting” her words and “using them for nothing but political gain.” Previously, she blamed others for making something “negative” out of a lynching joke. Seriously.
Major donors, including Walmart and Leidos, are asking the Hyde-Smith campaign for their money back. The white supremacist who gave her $2,700 has not.
This looks pretty bad for Republicans. It’s shaping up to be another Alabama, where voters rejected the accused pedophile and sent a Democrat to the U.S. Senate. Even then, the pedophile still got 49% of the vote. But, this is Mississippi, where a joke about something as horrible as lynching will not sway the majority of white voters to vote for a Democrat, and a black guy at that. Mississippi hasn’t elected a black candidate to a statewide office in the more than 140 years since Reconstruction.
There are good people in Mississippi. Some of America’s greatest writers have come from the state. There are liberals and enlightened people. Some of the most talented people I ever worked with are from Mississippi. But, they’re outnumbered.
This is the state where it took three trials to convict Byron De La Beckwith for the murder of Medgar Evers, killed Emmett Till for flirting with a white woman, and killed three Civil Rights workers for helping blacks register to vote. Their former Senator, Trent Lott, said Strom Thurmond was right with his racism. Mississippi has changed a lot since those days, but a lot hasn’t.
Mississippi is still burning and it’s going to send a racist laughing about lynchings and voter suppression to the United States Senate.
Watch me draw.