Mississippi Senate race could make history

U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde Smith R-Miss

U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde Smith R-Miss

Republican Senate candidate Cindy Hyde-Smith has won the MS runoff election following a campaign awash with racial turmoil and controversy.

An elusive candidate, Hyde-Smith hid behind the president, driving around in a bus with her face plastered next to his (called the "MAGA Wagon"), opening and closing the debate with a pitch for his rallies, and letting him do most of the talking at those two election eve events. "If he invited me to a public hanging, I'd be on the front row", she was caught saying on a video posted to social media.

"Mr. President, thank you so much for all of your help", Hyde-Smith said in a victory speech to supporters, reiterating her win was a triumph for conservative values.

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But Hyde-Smith's win proved how solidly conservative the state is, and how big the challenges still are for Democrats.

"To the lawless caravans and illegal trespassers marching toward our border, it is very simple: Turn back now, go back home, we will not let you in", Trump said. As the large projector screen showed a reporter from Fox News calling the election for Hyde-Smith, the room erupted in cheers. "This is about the people of Mississippi, and what's important to the people of Mississippi", Hyde-Smith told a crowd of about 80 supporters at the Westin in Jackson on Tuesday night.

Trump congratulated Hyde-Smith on Twitter late Tuesday night. Espy, who is black, called her comments "reprehensible". Neither candidate got more than 50% of the vote, which triggered a special election. Ultimately, the lack of a more honest apology, and the questions surrounding why Hyde-Smith would make the comment in the first place - especially in light of Mississippi's bleak history of public hangings of black Americans - is deeply troubling. The state could soon have its first elected female senator or first black senator since Reconstruction. A two-term state agriculture commissioner, the Republican was viewed as the best bet to head off a primary challenger from conservative firebrand Chris McDaniel, a state senator who had nearly knocked off Cochran in 2014. She later sent her daughter to a similar school.

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U.S. President Donald Trump had said at the Biloxi campaign rally on November 26 that illegal immigrants, such as those participating in the caravans between Mexico and the United States, are unfairly disadvantaging American workers.

She will serve out the remaining two years of former Republican Senator Thad Cochran's term, whom she was appointed to replace earlier this year after he stepped down due to health concerns.

Espy was hoping that the controversy around Hyde-Smith's remarks would lead to a replay of the Alabama special election in 2017 where Democrat Doug Jones won a narrow victory against Roy Moore by wooing Republicans appalled by their party's nominee with moderate rhetoric.

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Espy, an attorney, said: "I found out later that this guy, the president, was a really bad guy". She accused Espy of twisting her words for political gain. Mississippi's dark history of lynching is still a contentious issue and one that all decent folks would be wise to avoid making gags about.

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