GOP US Sen. Hyde-Smith wins divisive runoff, keeps her seat

Trump speaks during a rally at the Tupelo Regional Airport in Tupelo. — AFP

Michael Smith is the first and only husband of Cindy Hyde-Smith, who is now running in the runoff election for the U.S. Senate seat in Mississippi. Cindy Hyde-Smith, who is in a runoff Tuesday against Democrat Mike Espy.

A spokeswoman for the secretary of state's office, Leah Rupp Smith, said observers from the office were seeing "steady but slow" turnout the first few hours, but the pace picked up late in the day, with estimates that 30 to 40 percent of registered voters cast ballots.

Hyde-Smith is in a tight runoff Tuesday against Democrat Mike Espy, a former congressman and agriculture secretary under President Bill Clinton.

Hyde-Smith has drawn fire for a 2014 photo showing her wearing a replica hat of a Confederate soldier, and a video from last month showing her praising a supporter by saying, 'If he invited me to a public hanging, I'd be on the front row'. She said it was "an exaggerated expression of regard".

One Republican working on the runoff who requested anonymity to discuss private polling said the race has tightened recently, but expressed confidence Hyde-Smith would be elected.

"She votes for us and she votes for 'Make America Great Again, '" Trump said in Tupelo, where he was accompanied by Hyde-Smith. Officials said roughly 800,000 votes were cast. Democrats said the remark had racial overtones and harkened back to a darker chapter in MS history, especially since Espy would be the state's first African-American senator since Reconstruction. Cindy Hyde-Smith keep her seat in Republican hands.

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The nooses and signs were removed after being reported to the Capitol Police.

Trump told the crowd in Tupelo that "we don't want those people in Mississippi" and that immigrants are "not coming through anymore" illegally. Which, yes, we know that, because that's how fundraisers work.

Democrats have mounted an all-out effort to defeat Hyde-Smith, who was appointed to the seat by Gov. Phil Bryant when former Sen. Thad Cochran. The longtime lawmaker retired in April amid health concerns.

The runoff election Tuesday will decide who serves the final two years of a term begun by Republican Sen. She said of her decision to have a child later in life, "At 39 years old, I knew I wanted a child".

With all 35 Senate races decided, the Republicans hold a 53-47 edge - a pickup of two seats.

MS last elected a Democrat to the U.S. Senate in 1982, but Espy was trying for the same kind of longshot win that fellow Democrat Doug Jones had almost a year ago in neighboring Alabama, another conservative Deep South state where Republicans hold most statewide offices.

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Espy campaigned as someone who would be able to bridge the partisan divide in Washington.

"This is a campaign that goes to the color line and it reached across the color line, across the chasm of racial division, across the chasm of racial acrimony", Espy said Monday night at a predominantly African-American church in Jackson. "We need someone who respects the live of lynch victims", one sign reads.

Nooses were found hanging from trees and hate signs posted on the lawn of the Mississippi State Capitol building, on the eve of a U.S. Senate runoff election that has focused attention on the state's troubled history of race relations. Cindy Hyde-Smith to return their campaign donation after Hyde-Smith's comments about attending a "public hanging". She noted that the country's ex-president, Laurent Gbagbo, is being tried in the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity.

Trump called her "a truly incredible leader and tireless champion" for Mississippi.

Espy resigned the Cabinet post in 1994 amid a special counsel investigation that accused him of improperly accepting gifts.

Pence joined Trump for the Biloxi rally, declaring Espy too liberal for the state of Mississippi.

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