By EMILY WAGSTER PETTUS, Associated Press
JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Candidates in Mississippi’s U.S. Senate runoff are competing with college football, Thanksgiving turkey and the mad dash of Christmas bargain hunting as they try to hold voters’ attention.
Republican Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith and Democratic challenger Mike Espy are on the ballot Nov. 27, and the winner will get the final two years of a six-year term started by longtime Republican Sen. Thad Cochran.
Both candidates acknowledge that motivating people to return to the polls will be a challenge.
“I want everyone to have the best Thanksgiving they can possibly have. But don’t you eat a bite if you’re not looking at the person next to you, making sure they’ve got to go vote,” Hyde-Smith told cheering supporters at a Nov. 6 election night party in Jackson.
Espy hosted a gospel extravaganza Nov. 5 at Anderson United Methodist Church in Jackson. He talked to the mostly African-American audience about honoring the legacy of those who sacrificed in the struggle for civil rights — Fannie Lou Hamer, who was beaten for her activism, and Medgar Evers and Vernon Dahmer, who were killed.
“We feel the weight of history, the legacy, on us,” said Espy, a former congressman and former U.S. agriculture secretary who is trying to become the first African-American since Reconstruction to represent Mississippi in the U.S. Senate. “I’ll represent everybody irrespective of race or religion or party or gender or age or sexual orientation or disability.”
Hyde-Smith is the first woman to represent Mississippi in either chamber of Congress, and is now trying to become the first one elected. Republican Gov. Phil Bryant appointed her to temporarily succeed Cochran, who retired amid health concerns in April.
Hyde-Smith is running on a record of fully supporting Republican President Donald Trump, while Espy says a Mississippi senator should evaluate what is best for the state.
Hyde-Smith and Espy each received about 41 percent on Nov. 6. Republican Chris McDaniel received about 16 percent and asked his supporters to unite behind Hyde-Smith. Democrat Tobey Bernard Bartee received about 1 percent.
Voters said they had many reasons for going to the polls.
Octavia Clayborne, a 66-year-old retiree who is black and lives in Jackson, said she voted for Espy. She noted that Mississippi hasn’t had an African-American U.S. senator since Reconstruction.
“That in itself would make you get out of bed and vote,” she said outside the at New Hope Baptist Church precinct.
Clayborne said she was also motivated to vote because she opposes the president’s stance on immigration.
“I think Donald Trump is out of control and unless he has some kind of checks and balances on his behavior, we are in trouble,” she said.
Jessica Busby is a 32-year-old stay-at-home mother with two sons. One is 9 years old. The other is 2 months old. Busby, who is white and lives near the Ross Barnett Reservoir outside Jackson, said she voted for Hyde-Smith.
“I stick to Republicans,” Busby said. “We work very hard. It seems like we kind of get gypped sometimes — the middle class.”
Busby said she believes the economy is strong under Trump, but she still would like to see businesses create more jobs that offer higher pay.
The special Senate race was a magnet for voters, creating a record-high turnout for Mississippi in a federal midterm election. With 99 percent of precincts reporting, unofficial results compiled by The Associated Press showed more than 888,800 ballots were cast Nov. 6 in the special Senate election. That number could grow as provisional ballots are counted before final totals are certified under a Nov. 16 deadline.
Associated Press writer Jeff Amy contributed to this report. Emily Wagster Pettus has covered Mississippi government and politics since 1994. Follow her on Twitter: http://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus/