Republican U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith won a divisive Mississippi runoff Tuesday, surviving a video-recorded remark decried as racist and defeating a former federal official who hoped to become the state’s first African-American senator since Reconstruction.
The runoff was rocked by the video, in which Hyde-Smith said of a supporter, “If he invited me to a public hanging, I’d be on the front row.” A separate video showed her talking about “liberal folks” and making it “just a little more difficult” for them to vote.
The comments by Hyde-Smith made Mississippi’s history of racist lynchings a theme of the runoff and spurred many Black voters to return to the polls Tuesday. In the aftermath of the video, Republicans worried they could face a repeat of last year’s special election in Alabama, in which a flawed Republican candidate handed Democrats a reliable GOP Senate seat in the Deep South. The GOP pumped resources into Mississippi, and President Donald Trump made a strong effort on behalf of Hyde-Smith, holding last-minute rallies in Mississippi on Monday.
Speaking to supporters after her win, Hyde-Smith vowed to fight for everyone in the state when she goes to Washington. “I want everybody to know, no matter who you voted for today, I’m going to always represent every Mississippian. I will work very hard and do my very best to make Mississippi very proud,” she said.
Her supporters said the furor over her comments was overblown. 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. The contest caps a campaign season that exposed persistent racial divisions in America — and the willingness of some political candidates to exploit them to win elections.
With Hyde-Smith’s victory, Republicans control 53 of the Senate’s 100 seats. The GOP lost control of the House, where Democrats will assume the majority in January.