Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Hyde-Smith Wins Mississippi Senate Runoff
The Republican survived some late controversies that gave Democrats hope.

11/27/2018 10:29 PM EST

JACKSON, Miss. — Republican Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith has won Mississippi’s Senate runoff, defeating Democrat Mike Espy despite controversy over recent comments.

Hyde-Smith had 56 percent of the vote to Espy’s 44 percent when the Associated Press called the race with more than three-quarters of all precincts reporting. The result means Republicans will hold a 53-47 majority in the Senate next year.

The runoff for the remainder of Thad Cochran’s term was held because neither candidate got a majority of the vote in a crowded race Nov. 6. Since then, Hyde-Smith has drawn scrutiny for saying she would attend a “public hanging” for a supporter, before apologizing and calling the comment an exaggerated form of regard.

Hyde-Smith faced an unusually energetic special election challenge from Espy, a former congressman and Clinton-era agriculture secretary who inspired slim Democratic hopes of repeating the party’s miraculous Senate victory in Alabama last year, as Hyde-Smith faced a storm of controversy over recent remarks about attending a “public hanging.”

Espy, who is African-American, called Hyde-Smith’s “public hanging” comments a “black eye” for the state. Hyde-Smith ultimately apologized to “anyone offended” by her remarks, which she said were an exaggerated form of regard for a supporter. But the comments, which some viewed as connected to Mississippi’s history of lynching, brought unexpected scrutiny to Hyde-Smith, putting Republicans on edge even in a state that hasn’t elected a Democrat to the Senate since 1982.

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President Donald Trump visited the state Monday in an attempt to make sure GOP voters are engaged for the runoff.

"Don't take any chances,” Trump implored supporters at the first of two rallies. “You have to vote. We cannot allow Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer to erode [GOP control of the Senate] by winning the great state of Mississippi.”

Hyde-Smith's victory makes her the first woman elected to represent Mississippi in the Senate.

Hyde-Smith and Espy made the runoff because neither received a majority of the vote in a crowded race on November 6. The runoff wasn’t expected to be competitive — Republican candidates including Hyde-Smith collected an aggregate 58 percent of the vote four weeks ago, compared to 42 percent for Democrats. But Hyde-Smith’s controversial public hanging comment brought new scrutiny onto the race, which only grew after several major companies requested their donations to her campaign be refunded.

“There's no doubt [Espy] got into this race knowing it was an uphill battle,” said Bobby Moak, the state Democratic Party chairman. “From what we've been seeing in the past week, it appears he's closing the gap.”

Austin Barbour, a veteran Republican strategist who has managed statewide campaigns in Mississippi, said he thought Hyde-Smith should have apologized more quickly for the “public hanging” comment. She initially declined to apologize and largely avoided discussing the remark before offering an apology to “anyone offended” during the only debate between the candidates one week prior to Election Day.

“I know she said it, she regrets what she said and obviously that statement gave Espy a better chance to win,” Barbour said, though he added that he expected Hyde-Smith to win comfortably.

Barbour added that Trump’s two rallies in support of Hyde-Smith Monday would help ensure Republicans didn’t take the race for granted.

During his visit Monday night, Trump returned to the formula that helped him boost several red-state Republican Senate candidates to victory just a few weeks ago, bashing Espy as too liberal for the state and comparing him to national Democrats unpopular in Mississippi.

“The president is such a motivating factor for people in Mississippi who want to go out to vote, for both sides but obviously more for him than against him,” said Barbour. “[Trump] coming to the state the night before the election, there was no way for Espy to counter that."

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