Republican Cindy Hyde-Smith won a U.S. Senate special election runoff in conservative MS on Tuesday, defeating a black challenger after a campaign that recalled the history of racist violence in the deep South state.
Hyde-Smith is a former state agriculture and commerce commissioner who was appointed in April by the state's governor after the sudden retirement of Republican Senator Thad Cochran for health reasons.
Hyde-Smith led former U.S. Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy (D) by 56 percent to 44 percent with 76 percent of precincts reporting. Cindy Hyde-Smith returns to Washington as a solidly loyal Trump supporter after the president stumped for her in what was a divisive runoff marked by racial turmoil over a video-recorded remark Hyde-Smith made decried as racist.
He tried to recreate the coalition that propelled Democrat Doug Jones to a Senate win in neighboring Alabama past year by energizing black voters, particularly women, and winning support from white swing voters.
The rhetorical gaffe that got the most attention was an off-hand comment about being willing to sit in the front row of a hanging that Hyde-Smith made a couple weeks ago.
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Congratulations to Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith on your big WIN in the Great State of Mississippi.
In the aftermath of the video, Republicans anxious they could face a repeat of last year's special election in Alabama, in which a flawed Republican candidate handed the Democrats a reliable Republican Senate seat in the Deep South.
Mr Trump held a pair of 11th-hour campaign rallies in MS to prop up Hyde-Smith's campaign.
"And then they remind me, that there's a lot of liberal folks in those other schools who that maybe we don't want to vote", she said at a campaign stop.
They also stuck by her as a photo was circulated of her wearing a replica Confederate military hat during a 2014 visit to Beauvoir - the last home of Confederate president Jefferson Davis.
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It was symbolic in nature, as the International Olympic Committee had ruled out a name change, which would be opposed by China. But some voters say worsening relations with Beijing have harmed business, while others believe she has been too conciliatory.
"So many things are taken out of context", said Elizabeth Gallinghouse, 84, from Diamondhead, Mississippi. She later called the comments an "exaggerated expression of regard", but her use of the phrase brought memories of Mississippi's history of lynchings to the forefront and put the contest under the national microscope.
She initially refused to apologize for the hanging remark, but said in a debate last week that she was sorry 'for anyone that was offended.' She accused Espy of twisting her words for political gain.
The "public hanging" comment also resonated with his supporters. And it was revealed that she'd attended a private high school that was created to avoid desegregation - and sent her daughter to one as well.
Donald Trump rallied with Cindy Hyde-Smith on election eve.
Hyde-Smith and Espy emerged from a field of four candidates November 6 to advance to Tuesday's runoff. She will serve the remaining two years of Cochran's term before the seat is up for election again in 2020. "We are all proud of you".
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