In a racially tinged campaign in a deep South state, Republican Cindy Hyde-Smith became the first woman to ever win a Senate seat in Mississippi. She beat her African-American challenger Mike Espy by ten points.
In the last race of the 2018 mid-term elections, Republican Cindy Hyde-Smith won a US Senate special election runoff in conservative Mississippi on Tuesday.
US media projected that Hyde-Smith would defeat her black challenger in a campaign that recalled the state's history of racist violence.
Hyde-Smith, the white former state lawmaker who was appointed to the Senate in April, overcame a controversy after her comment on public hangings.
Hyde-Smith, 59, is the first woman ever elected to either chamber of Congress from Mississippi.
The polls had her heavily favored in the reliably Republican state, but she became engulfed in a political storm over a video showing her praising a supporter at an event by saying, "If he invited me to a public hanging, I'd be on the front row."
The video sparked a furor in the deep South state that has a history of racism and violence against blacks, including lynchings. It fueled Democratic hopes of an upset in a state where 38 percent of the population is black.
Hyde-Smith won by depicting Democrat Mike Espy as too liberal for Mississippi. The state last elected a Democrat to the Senate in 1982. She also touted her support for President Donald Trump, who won the state in his run to the White House by 18 percentage points in 2016. Trump attended two get-out-the-vote rallies in the state on Monday.
Her victory means Republicans will hold a 53-47 majority in the new US Senate that convenes in January.
Espy, a former cabinet member in the Clinton administration campaigned as a moderate who would work with Trump and Republicans to benefit the state. He tried to recreate a coalition that propelled Democrat Doug Jones to a Senate win in neighboring Alabama last year by energizing black voters, particularly women, and winning support from white swing voters.
The runoff to serve the last two years of former Republican Senator Thad Cochran's term was necessary because neither Espy nor Hyde-Smith gained more than 50 percent of the vote in a special vote earlier in November.
Several businesses, including giant retailer Walmart, had demanded Hyde-Smith return their donations after her public hanging comment.
There was further controversy when she was shown on another video joking about suppressing liberal student votes, and photographs surfaced of her posing with Confederate artifacts in 2014.
Hyde-Smith 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.
Espy denied the charge and said "we all know what came out of your mouth." He has said the comment perpetuated negative stereotypes about Mississippi and hurt investment.
av/jm (AP, Reuters)