Democrats in Mississippi are hoping to pull off an upset in the November 27 Senate runoff election between GOP nominee Sen. Cyndy Hyde-Smith (R-MS) and Democrat nominee former Rep. Mike Espy (D-MS).
This is precisely what they did in the Alabama special Senate election in December of last year when Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL) narrowly defeated embattled GOP nominee Roy Moore.
At first glance, the odds in favor of a Democrat victory would appear improbable.
President Trump easily defeated Hillary Clinton in Mississippi in 2016 by 18 points, 58 percent to 40 percent.
It has been 36 years since the state last elected a Democrat to the United States Senate in 1982, when incumbent Sen. John Stennis (D-MS) was re-elected to his seventh and final term.
But some level of trouble is on the horizon for the GOP, and the Democrats are looking to capitalize on it.
In the three-way election to complete the remaining two years of Sen. Thad Cochran’s term last Tuesday, Hyde-Smith, who was appointed by Gov. Phil Bryant to the seat in April after Cochran’s resignation, finished in first place with 41 percent, Espy finished in second place with 40 percent, and State Senator Chris McDaniel, the Tea Party favorite who narrowly lost the 2014 GOP runoff primary election to Cochran, finished in third with 16 percent.
Under Mississippi law, candidates must receive more than 50 percent of the vote to be declared the winner. If any candidate fails to win 50 percent in the general election, the top two finishers face each other in a runoff election three weeks later.
Though Hyde-Smith is favored to win the runoff, her campaign ran into turbulence late Sunday after a comment she made on the campaign trail was posted on Twitter and her opponent quickly jumped on it, as Politico reported:
Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.), running for election against an African-American man, joked in a video posted online that if she were invited by one of her supporters to a “public hanging,” she would be in “the front row.”
The clip was published on Twitter Sunday by a Mississippi blogger, who said Hyde-Smith was campaigning with a cattle rancher when she made the comment.
“If he invited me to a public hanging, I’d be on the front row,” Hyde-Smith said. There was no further context for the remark immediately available.
Lamar Smith Jr., a blogger who publishes The Bayou Brief and describes himself on his Twitter account as “the last man to argue with Andrew Breitbart,” posted the video on his Twitter account, which can be seen below, late Sunday.
“If he invited me to a public hanging, I’d be on the front row”- Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith says in Tupelo, MS after Colin Hutchinson, cattle rancher, praises her.
Hyde-Smith is in a runoff on Nov 27th against Mike Espy. pic.twitter.com/0a9jOEjokr
— Lamar White, Jr. (@LamarWhiteJr) November 11, 2018
“In a Monday morning appearance on CNN’s New Day, Espy told co-host John Berman that Hyde-Smith made the comments ‘a campaign issue’ by telling the ‘joke’ in the first place,” the Daily Beast reported:
“This is 2018,” he continued. “We just should not have this. We need leaders who would try to unite us and not divide us.”
The comments, Espy added, “are hurtful to the millions of Mississippians who are people of good will, and they are harmful because they tend to reinforce the stereotypes that have held back our state for so long, that have cost us jobs and that have held back the economy.”
Late Sunday, Hyde-Smith issued this statement about her comments:
In a comment on Nov. 2, I referred to accepting an invitation to a speaking engagement. In referencing the one who invited me, I used an exaggerated expression of regard, and any attempt to turn this into a negative connotation is ridiculous.
On Monday, Gov. Phil Bryant commented on the controversy while at an event attended by Hyde-Smith, as Politico reported:
Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant, also a Republican, said at the event Monday that sometimes politicians say things they “could have phrased better,” but he said he believes that Hyde-Smith did not mean any offense by her remark.
“I know this woman, and I know her heart. I knew it when I appointed her, and I know it now,” he said. “There is nothing in her heart of ill will.”
“Absolutely we have been sensitive to race relations in this state,” he said, adding that when he invited President Donald Trump to the opening of the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum in Jackson, some African-American leaders refused to attend in protest.
With two weeks until the runoff election, it remains to be seen how much impact this controversy will have on the outcome of the race.