Backlash over a senator's remark that reopened racial wounds and the GOP's vulnerabilities on health care and trade have Democrats hoping they can pull off another Senate election shocker in the Deep South on Tuesday.
The U.S. Senate special election runoff in deep red Mississippi pits Republican Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith against Democratic former Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy. The candidates are vying to replace longtime GOP Sen. Thad Cochran, whom Hyde-Smith was appointed to replace earlier this year as failing health forced him to leave office.
The state's political makeups give Hyde-Smith an edge. President Donald Trump won Mississippi by about 18 percentage points in 2016. Mississippi's last Democratic senator, John Stennis, a pro-segregation lawmaker who represented a bygone era of Southern Democratic politics, left office in 1989.
But Democrats see an opening – however small -- after Democratic Sen. Doug Jones' upset special election victory in Alabama last year. Hyde-Smith's campaign trail comment about attending a "public hanging" while running against Espy, a black man, evoked Mississippi's history of lynchings and put her on the defensive in the campaign's final weeks. On Saturday, CNN reported that Hyde-Smith once introduced a resolution praising a Confederate soldier for "defend[ing] his homeland."
For his part, the Democrat has tried to press an advantage on GOP efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act and Trump's tariff policy, which affects a state with a large agricultural presence.