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By KEVIN McGILL, Associated Press
Voters casting midterm election ballots in Mississippi are divided over the state of the nation, according to a wide-ranging survey of the American electorate.
As voters cast ballots for U.S. Senate and members of Congress in Tuesday’s elections, AP VoteCast found that 52 percent of Mississippi voters said the country is on the right track, compared with 46 percent who said the country is headed in the wrong direction.
Here’s a snapshot of who voted and why in Mississippi, based on preliminary results from AP VoteCast, an innovative nationwide survey of about 138,000 voters and nonvoters — including 3,031 voters and 833 nonvoters in the state of Mississippi — conducted for The Associated Press by NORC at the University of Chicago.
RACE FOR THE SENATE
Races for both of Mississippi’s U.S. Senate seats were on Tuesday’s ballot, but only one was decided hours after balloting concluded. One was a special election involving candidates from both parties: Republican Cindy Hyde-Smith, who was appointed to the seat that Republican Thad Cochran left due to health concerns, will be in a runoff with former Democratic U.S. House member and one-time agriculture secretary Mike Espy to see who will fill the remaining two years of the term.
Hyde-Smith was endorsed by President Donald Trump but still faced a challenge from Tea Party Republican Chris McDaniel, who boasted of his support for Trump and nearly unseated Cochran in a bitter 2014 Republican primary.
Hyde-Smith and Espy led a field that also included a little-known former military intelligence officer, Tobey Bernard Bartee.
Espy, were he to win, would become Mississippi’s first African-American senator since Reconstruction. He led among black voters, although one of his supporters was quick to say that wasn’t her sole reason for supporting him.
Chelsea Clement of Diamondhead said in an Election Day interview that she loves Espy’s policies. “It’s a secondary nice thing that he happens to be African-American,” said Clement, who is white.
Voters under 45 supported Espy; those ages 45 and older modestly supported Hyde-Smith.
In the other Senate race, incumbent Republican Roger Wicker defeated Democratic state lawmaker David Baria.
Wicker was preferred over Baria among white voters. Whites with a college education supported Wicker, and whites without a college degree favored Wicker as well.
Baria was preferred among black voters.
Voters under 45 were divided in their support; those ages 45 and older preferred Wicker.
Asked about their top concerns, roughly one in four voters chose immigration, the economy, or health care.
Health care was an issue Espy hit hard during his campaign, criticizing Republican leaders for not expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.
And health care was the top issue for Kristina Foss, 50, of Picayune, who said her son is on disability with a host of problems including autism, epilepsy and bipolar disorder; and for Rhonda Davidson, 55, who said needed oxygen treatments and was on disability.
Well over half of voters considered the nation’s economic outlook good, with about four in 10 saying it is not good.
On the economy, Ricky McCulley, 57, of Diamondhead, said President Donald Trump “has done a terrific job on the economy. I have more money in my pocket on payday then I did before he took as president.”
Still, Mary Ann Holmes, 66, a retiree in Jackson, said she was concerned for those struggling to get by on the minimum wage.
Some were critical of Trump’s immigration stance. Rhonda Davidson, 55, of Picayune, criticized the deployment of troops to the Southern border to meet migrants making their way north from Central America through Mexico.
She lamented the idea of sending troops with firearms to mdesperate migrants who might be armed with rocks. “That’s totally unacceptable,” she said. “That’s not who we are.”
Dawn Roderick, 50, of Diamondhead, said she loves Trump’s immigration policies. “I think he’s doing everything exactly the way he said he’d do.”
About a third of Mississippi voters, a state carried by Trump in the 2016 election, said Trump was not a factor they considered while casting their vote.
McCulley was an example. He said he considers himself a conservative rather than a Republican or Democrat. And, although he likes the economy under Trump, he considers the president “kind of wishy-washy on things.” He said he didn’t vote in the last presidential election because he couldn’t vote for Trump.
Roderick said Trump was a motivator but not a factor in her vote. “I’m just born and bred Republican,” she said.
Still, the VoteCast survey found that about two-thirds of Mississippi voters said Trump was a reason for their vote.
“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,” said Octavia Clayborne, 66, voting in Jackson.
CONTROL OF CONGRESS
More than three-quarters of Mississippi voters said a very important factor in their vote was which party would control Congress.
“I’m a Republican and I voted for Republicans because I do not want Democrats to get in,” said Kay Horn, a voter in Diamondhead.
Foss said she had voted for Wicker in his last election but voted for a Democratic challenger this time, adding, “it became so partisan that you couldn’t vote for a Republican and keep them in power.”
AP VoteCast is a survey of the American electorate in all 50 states conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago for The Associated Press and Fox News. The survey of 3,031 voters and 833 nonvoters in Mississippi was conducted Oct. 29 to Nov. 6, concluding as polls close on Election Day. It combines interviews in English or Spanish with a random sample of registered voters drawn from state voter files and self-identified registered voters selected from opt-in online panels. Participants in the probability-based portion of the survey were contacted by phone and mail, and had the opportunity to take the survey by phone or online. The margin of sampling error for voters is estimated to be plus or minus 2.5 percentage points. All surveys are subject to multiple sources of error, including from sampling, question wording and order, and nonresponse. Find more details about AP VoteCast’s methodology at http://www.ap.org/votecast .
Associated Press reporters Janet McConnaughey, Jeff Amy and Emily Wagster Pettus contributed to this report.