JACKSON, Miss. — The last U.S. Senate race of the midterms was coming to a close Tuesday as Mississippians chose between a white Republican Senate appointee whose “public hanging” comments angered many people and a black Democrat who was agriculture secretary under former President Bill Clinton.
History will be made either way: Republican Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, 59, would be the first woman elected to Congress from Mississippi, and Democrat Mike Espy, 64, would be the state’s first African-American U.S. senator since Reconstruction.
Espy kept to a theme he’s emphasized repeatedly: He’d be a senator for all of Mississippi. He said that to win, he can’t just rely on African-American voters. He needs white voters as well.
“I don’t talk to them as white voters. I talk to them as Mississippians — Mississippi young people who want to reduce their debt coming out of college, Mississippi young people who want to stay in this state, and not go to Atlanta and Dallas to get a good job,” Espy said after voting.
Hyde-Smith hugged supporters at her precinct. “We have worked very hard, and we feel very good,” she said.
Mississippi’s past of racist vio-lence became a dominant theme after a video showed Hyde-Smith praising a supporter in early November 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.” More than a week after the video’s release, she said she apologized to “anyone that was offended by my comments,” but also said the remark was used as a “weapon” against her.
Hyde-Smith was seen in another video talking about making voting difficult for “liberal folks,” and a photo circulated of her wearing a replica Confederate military hat during a 2014 visit to Beauvoir, a beachside museum in Biloxi, Mississippi, that was the last home of Confederate President Jefferson Davis.
Critics said Hyde-Smith’s comments and Confederate regalia showed callous indifference in a state with a 38 percent black population, and some corporate donors, including Walmart, requested refunds on campaign contributions to her.