Mississippi Senate special election could go to a runoff as Democrat Espy tries for upset: NBC News/Marist poll

Key Points
  • A Senate special election in Mississippi could be headed for a runoff as voters pick a replacement for retired Republican Sen. Thad Cochran.
  • If the race goes to a runoff, incumbent Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, who was appointed to fill Cochran's seat, appears to have an advantage over Democrat Mike Espy, according to a new poll.
  • Mississippi is one of only a few opportunities Democrats have in Senate races.
Democrat Mike Espy pledges to work across party lines, during a brief speech in Jackson, Miss., Friday, July 20, 2018.
Rogelio V. Solis | AP

A Senate special election in red Mississippi could head to a runoff in late November as Democrat Mike Espy pushes to upset Republican Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, according to a new poll.

In the Nov. 6 contest, 38 percent of likely voters prefer Hyde-Smith, 29 percent choose Espy and 15 percent pick GOP state Sen. Chris McDaniel, the NBC News/Marist poll released Tuesday found. Another 15 percent of likely voters are undecided, while nonpartisan candidate Tobey Bartee takes 2 percent of support.

If no candidate gets 50 percent, the contest would move to a Nov. 27 runoff. That potential race favors Hyde-Smith as she consolidates Republican voters, according to the survey. She garners 50 percent of support among likely voters while Espy gets 36 percent and 13 percent are undecided.

Espy appears to have a better chance if McDaniel finds his way into a runoff. In a potential matchup between the two men, the Democrat has a 7 percentage point edge, according to the survey.

Hyde-Smith was appointed to fill the Senate seat after longtime GOP Sen. Thad Cochran retired earlier this year due to health issues. Espy, a U.S. Agriculture secretary under President Bill Clinton, gives Democrats one of their only Senate seat pickup opportunities this year. However, he faces a daunting path to winning in a state that President Donald Trump won easily in 2016 and still enjoys a strong approval rating.

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Both Senate seats in Mississippi are up for grabs this year. But the survey shows a more comfortable cushion for Republican Sen. Roger Wicker in his regularly scheduled re-election bid. He garners 60 percent support among likely voters, versus 32 percent for Democratic lawyer David Baria, the poll found.

Republicans in Mississippi get a boost from voters' feelings toward Trump. He has a 60 percent approval rating in the state among likely voters, versus 35 percent disapproval. A whopping 45 percent say they strongly approve of the president.

More than half of likely voters, 54 percent, say they want more Republicans in Congress to help Trump pass his agenda, versus 38 percent who would prefer more Democrats to check the president.

Forty-six percent of Mississippi likely voters also responded that they are more likely to vote for a candidate who supported Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, versus 24 percent who said they would rather vote for a candidate who opposed him. Kavanaugh was confirmed earlier this month despite sexual misconduct accusations against him. The justice denied the claims.

Hyde-Smith and Wicker voted to confirm Kavanaugh. Espy has said he "probably" would not have supported Kavanaugh's confirmation.

The NBC/Marist poll of Mississippi was conducted Oct. 13-18 of 973 residents of Mississippi. Its margin of error was plus or minus 4.4 percentage points overall; 4.7 points for the 885 registered voters; and 6.1 points for the 511 likely voters.