Analysis: Thoughts on how Ginsburg’s death could shape race for Mississippi senate seat

Published 12:02 pm Sunday, September 27, 2020

Mike Espy, like most Democratic Senate candidates across the nation, has significantly benefitted from campaign contributions following the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and as a Senate fight looms over filling the court seat she left vacant.

But whether that fight will help Espy win a Senate election here in Mississippi remains to be seen.

The death of Ginsburg and soon after the release of a poll showing Espy within one percentage point of incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith have focused attention on a Mississippi race that to a large extent had been overlooked by the national and state media. It should be stressed that the poll, by the Tyson Group, was conducted in late August before the death of Ginsburg.

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But during about a four day period after Ginsburg’s death, Espy received more than $1 million in campaign donations — a record amount for his campaign and enough to ensure he is at least financially competitive with Hyde-Smith ahead of the Nov. 3 election.

The fundraising was fueled by Democrats and others who believe that President Donald Trump should not get to nominate a new justice before voters decide days later whether he will serve another four years as president, and that a Republican Senate should not confirm a replacement for Ginsburg until January when a new Senate term begins.

The death of Ginsburg, the best-known member of the Supreme Court, has evoked passion by Democrats on the issue of filling federal court vacancies. Passion on that issue had been primarily on the side of Republicans in past elections.

While an argument could be made that this passion could benefit Democrats in Senate races in many parts of the country, it is not so clear what the impact will be in Mississippi.

“This is an important issue for both parties,” said Nathan Shrader, chair of the Department of Government and Politics at Millsaps College. “I think in Mississippi this could benefit Cindy Hyde-Smith. It is another opportunity for her to say a vote for her is a vote for Donald Trump.”

Based on polling, it would appear Mississippians would support a Trump nominee who would help overturn Supreme Court rulings that have made abortion legal throughout the nation.

But many Mississippians might not be so enamored with a Trump nominee, who in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic could help to overturn the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, better known as “Obamacare,” that provides health care coverage to about 100,000 people in the state and provides protection for pre-existing conditions to about 600,000 Mississippians.

Theoretically, a new justice appointed by Trump could be serving on Nov. 10, when his administration argues before the Supreme Court the ACA should be overturned. It is safe to assume that new nominee would side with Trump on overturning the health care law. Hyde-Smith also supports overturning the ACA. Both Trump and Hyde-Smith have said they support protecting people with pre-existing conditions, but they have not yet provided a plan that health care groups say would guarantee insurance companies provide coverage to people with pre-existing conditions. In addition, they have yet to offer a comprehensive and workable plan to provide coverage to the tens of thousands Mississippians who have health care coverage through the ACA.

Espy already has said he wants to make this election about health care.

“This is the No. 1 issue for the Espy campaign,” Espy said. “It is the No. 1 issue in Mississippi.”

Granted, the health care argument as it relates to the Supreme Court is more nuanced than the abortion argument. But Espy now has the money to broadly make that argument.

On the issue of abortion, a 2014 poll by the Pew Research Center found that 59% of Mississippians support making abortion illegal in most/all instances, while 36% favor making it legal in most/all instances. A more recent April 2019 poll conducted by Mississippi-based Chism Strategies for Millsaps College found that 43% of the respondents said the issue of abortion should be left up to the woman and her health care provider.

Mississippians also feel strongly about health care. Another Chism/Millsaps Poll released in January found 70% of Mississippians were concerned about being able to afford health care. A case could be made that the demise of the ACA could further worry many Mississippians who are concerned about health care affordability. Both sides can make arguments on how a new Trump appointee would be good or bad for Mississippians.

The biggest factor in the November election for the U.S. Senate seat in Mississippi could boil down to whether voters are more concerned about abortion or about health care more broadly.

By Bobby Harrison, Mississippi Today.