Republican Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS) prevailed in Mississippi’s Senate runoff on Tuesday night, boosting the Republican Senate majority to 53-47 and becoming the first woman elected to the Senate from the state.
After failing to capture a majority of the vote on November 6, she went to a runoff on this post-Thanksgiving Tuesday. With 83 percent of precincts reporting, Hyde-Smith was leading her Democratic opponent Mike Espy, a former Mississippi congressman and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture in Clinton's administration, by a margin of 54.9 percent to 45.1 percent.
In the initial November 6 vote, Republicans earned 58 percent of the vote, combined between Hyde-Smith and her firebrand GOP challenger Chris McDaniel. Espy and another Democrat in the initial count earned 42 percent.
Espy, whose family has deep roots in the states, dramatically outperformed Hillary Clinton, who lost by about 18 points in a state where a Democrat last won a Senate race since 1982.
He released a hopeful statement after the race was called, saying: "Make no mistake—tonight is the beginning, not the end. When this many people show up, stand up, and speak up, it is not a loss. It is a moment. It is a movement. And we are not going to stop moving our state forward just because of one election. I look forward to finding new ways to do just that.”
Hyde-Smith offered herself as an instrument of President Trump’s agenda, hitting the trail on a bus called the MAGA Wagon emblazoned with with an image of the 45th president.
Like Trump, who held two rallies for her earlier this week, Hyde-Smith drew attention to herself through a series of self-inflicted wounds that had Republicans worried about losing a seat in the solidly red state.
“If he invited me to a public hanging, I’d be on the front row,” Hyde-Smith was caught saying at an event. Espy attempted to capitalize on the moment, telling voters she embarrassed the state that has long-suffered from its history of racial violence. Making matters worse, Hyde-Smith did not immediately apologize or appear to reckon with the impact of her remarks in a state that had the highest number of lynchings in the country from 1882 to 1968.
Hyde-Smith eventually issued a muted apology in her only debate with Espy but, in Trumpian fashion, claimed her words had been “twisted and it was turned into a weapon to be used against me.” Espy quickly shot back that “No one twisted your comments. They came out of your mouth. I don’t know what’s in your heart—but we all know what came out of your mouth… It’s caused our state harm. It's given our state another black eye that we don’t need.”
President Trump defended Hyde-Smith to reporters before departing for the rallies on Monday. "I know her. And I know she apologized. And she misspoke," he said of the senator. "She's been an excellent senator. She's done a great job. She's somebody that's respected in the Senate."
Major companies like Walmart, Google, and Major League Baseball appeared to agree with Espy though, as they withdrew political contributions to Hyde-Smith in the closing days of the campaign.
But that wasn’t enough to move the voters of Mississippi, who ultimately backed Hyde-Smith on Tuesday, allowing her to fill out the remainder of the term until 2020.