Mississippi voters head to the polls Tuesday in the final Senate election of the 2018 midterms, a contest shaped by racial issues that will determine how wide the Republicans Senate majority will be in January.
GOP Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith hopes to fend off an upset from Democratic former Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy in the red state. Republicans aim to avoid their second shocker in the Deep South within the last year, after Democratic Sen. Doug Jones won a Senate special election in deep red Alabama in December.
The winner of Tuesday's Senate special election runoff will serve the remainder of retired GOP Sen. Thad Cochran's term, which extends through 2020. Hyde-Smith was appointed to replace the ailing lawmaker earlier this year. But her remarks that evoked Mississippi's history of racist violence — and criticism that she did not properly explain or apologize for them — have made the contest in the conservative state more competitive than Republicans would like.
President Donald Trump offered some last minute help to Hyde-Smith on Monday with rallies in Mississippi, a state he carried by about 18 percentage points in 2016. He defended the GOP senator for her comments that surfaced earlier this month about attending a "public hanging," which awakened memories of lynchings in the state and prompted numerous Hyde-Smith campaign donors to ask for a refund.
Espy, who is black, has said her comments gave the state "another black eye that we don't need" and "rejuvenated old stereotypes." An Espy campaign ad that targets Hyde-Smith's comments also says that "we can't afford a senator who embarrasses us."