Could a Democrat win in Mississippi in 2018? What the nation is saying about Thad Cochran’s resignation

Published 8:00 am Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Mississippi was already poised for an eventful election year, but the impending retirement of longtime U.S. Senator Thad Cochran has local and national analysts buzzing about how 2018 could play out politically in the Magnolia State.

Sen. Roger Wicker was already gearing up for a primary battle against Chris McDaniel, who narrowly lost to Cochran in 2014. With Cochran’s retirement leaving a second Senate seat up for grabs, there’s plenty of speculation regarding whether McDaniel will flip races or fight it out with Wicker, not to mention who Gov. Phil Bryant will choose to temporarily hold Cochran’s seat.

A Democrat hasn’t won a Senate seat in Mississippi since 1982, but CNN’s Harry Enten says that doesn’t mean one couldn’t win in 2018. His reasoning?

“Democrats should keep an eye on any state where Trump is barely above water and where a weak general election candidate may end up being the Republican choice against the Democrat.
“To start, there is a single digit spread in Trump’s approval and disapproval ratings in the state. A December Mason-Dixon poll gave Trump just a 51% approval rating to a 43% disapproval rating among voters in the state. Gallup’s polling over the course of 2017 among adults in Mississippi put Trump’s approval rating at only 48% to a disapproval rating of 46%.
“… Trump’s approval rating suggests that a single digit race is quite possible in the state.” 

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Five Thirty Eight’s Nathaniel Rakich says Mississippi’s nonpartisan special-election setup could play a role, as well.

“The nonpartisan setup has the potential to help Democrats, because Mississippi is two things: Very Republican and very inelastic, meaning it has very few persuadable voters and doesn’t swing much from one election to the next. Most voters in Mississippi reliably vote for either Republicans or Democrats. Under normal circumstances, that makes it extremely difficult for any Democrat to claw his or her way to 50 percent of the vote, but in a campaign without party labels (or at least where they aren’t front and center), the lead weight that is a “D” next to one’s name is partially lifted.”

Conservative activists in Mississippi aren’t exactly unprepared for the potential shake-up. As NBC News points out, many people expected Cochran to retire including donors who have been “plotting for months to make a play for both of Mississippi’s Senate seats this year.”

While the thought of a Mississippi Democrat in the Senate might seem far-fetched no matter how much shake-up potential this election year brings, New York Magazine’s Ed Kilgore reminds everyone to look to Mississippi’s next-door neighbor as a reminder that anything’s possible, even in the Deep South.

“At this point there’s no smart money supporting the idea that a Democrat could become competitive in either 2018 race in this bright-red state. But neither did it seem likely when Jeff Sessions resigned his Alabama Senate seat to become attorney general.

“…Almost anything could happen.” 

Speculation aside, among the more compelling coverage related to Cochran’s retirement is Mississippi Today’s analysis of what’s to come in such a significant election year with insight from U.S. Sen. Trent Lott and other political leaders and activists in the state. The general consensus? No matter who wins, 2018 will go down as one of the most significant election years in Mississippi’s history.

“I’ve lived a lot of Mississippi political history, and I’ve studied it for as long as I can remember,” Lott said. “This one takes the cake. Over the last 50 years, and probably more than that, we’ve not had anything like this.”