JACKSON, Miss. – Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, a Mississippi Republican who had to apologize for an arrogant reference to a public hanging, won a special tie-break election on Tuesday, defeating Democratic candidate Mike Espy, who was trying to become the First state Senator black since Reconstruction.
The victory of Mrs. Hyde-Smith, informed by The Associated Press, came in the last race of the Senate of the mid-term elections and will fix the Republican majority in the chamber from 53 to 47 once the new Congress takes office , a net collection of two seats.
When she faltered after several rhetorical comments attracted the attention of her campaign, Ms. Hyde-Smith received a last-minute boost from President Trump, who showed up at two rallies with her on Monday and warned the Mississippians that it would also be a victory. for Mr. Espy. one for Democratic leaders such as Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi.
The Republican victory was a great relief for the party and Mr. Trump in a state in which they rarely fight, especially in the Senate races. Mr. Trump repeatedly boasted this year about his influence to help his preferred candidates win the election, but the party had to make unusual efforts: with the two rallies, multiple tweets from the president, a large financial investment and dozens of workers elected republicans. to the state – to help Ms. Hyde-Smith at the finish line.
His victory is clearly good news for the Senate Republicans, who will now have a conservative and expanded majority to help move Trump's judicial candidates forward and negotiate with a House led by Democrats.
With 95 percent of the precincts reporting, Ms. Hyde-Smith had just over 54 percent of the vote.
"The reason we won is because the Mississippians know me and know my heart," he said Tuesday night. "This victory tonight, this victory, it's about our conservative values, it's about the things that mean the most to all of Mississippi: our faith, our family."
Mr. Espy was the third prominent black Democrat to defeat a state race in the South this year, following the losses of two gubernatorial candidates, Stacey Abrams in Georgia and Andrew Gillum in Florida.
Addressing the supporters of the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum here less than three hours after the polls closed, Mr. Espy said he had granted Ms. Hyde-Smith. "She has my prayers while going to Washington to unite a very divided Mississippi," he said.
The election of Mrs. Hyde-Smith reinforced the control of the Republicans over power in Mississippi, a state they had dominated since the early 2000s, and showed that the political realignments that are taking shape in some parts of the South are still in an incipient stage in Mississippi.
Still, the fact that Ms. Hyde-Smith faced a difficult runoff election, after no candidate won a majority of the vote on November 6, suggested that Democrats could make selected races competitive once. plus. And the frantic efforts to save his seat indicated that the rhetoric apparently impregnated with the racist past of Mississippi risks a modern political price.
Although Ms. Hyde-Smith was never in the way of power: she faced a Republican rival and Mr. Espy in the first round of voting, almost guaranteeing the second round of voting on Tuesday, his campaign was put in grave danger through of her own statements, including one in which she said that if a supporter invited her to "a public hanging, she would be in the front row."
Without that comment, and a handful of other controversial comments, both Democrats and Republicans said, the victory of Ms. Hyde-Smith on Tuesday would have been almost a blockade.
In contrast, Mr. Espy, 64, and his allies were able to take advantage of Ms. Hyde-Smith's rhetoric and argue that it was an anachronistic representation of Mississippi, a state that has struggled to repair its image more than half a century later. . Some of the most serious abuses of the civil rights era.
During a debate last week, Ms. Hyde-Smith, 59, who was the state commissioner of agriculture until this year, said her "hanging in public" comment reflected "no ill will" and said she was being unjustly vilified.
Mr. Espy, a former secretary of agriculture in the Clinton administration who was the first black member of Congress in Mississippi since Reconstruction, responded: "It came out of his mouth, I do not know what's in your heart, but we all know what came out from your mouth ".
However, Mr. Espy refrained from attacking his opponent with too much force for his comments, aware of the large bloc of white conservative voters in the state who support the Republicans and are deeply loyal to President Trump. It was a reflection of the balance that Democrats must strike when they try to break through in southern states such as Georgia and Texas, where appeals to the base of African-Americans, Hispanics and moderate suburbanites could alienate rural whites.
Region after region on Tuesday, Ms. Hyde-Smith was the strongest in rural and predominantly white Mississippi counties, outperforming Republican luminaries such as Mitt Romney, the party's presidential candidate in 2012. But in areas with the largest number of college-educated whites Voters, like the suburbs of Memphis, did less well, which allowed Mr. Espy to get closer than the Democrats normally do.
Ms. Hyde-Smith, who was appointed to the position in April when Thad Cochran retired for health reasons, will now fill the remaining two years of her term. The seat will again be on the ballot in 2020, when a period of six years will be at stake.
Mississippi is not used to hurt races in the Senate between Democrats and Republicans. Senator Roger Wicker, who was also on the ballot on November 6, won his candidacy for re-election this month with approximately 59 percent of the vote. (In 2014, Mr. Cochran survived a primary challenge and then defeated his Democratic rival in the general election).
But in the three weeks between the first round of voting and the second round, the confrontation between Mr. Espy and Mrs. Hyde-Smith became a nationally analyzed test of Mississippi's racial tolerance and the state's position as a conservative bulwark.
Although Mr. Espy announced his campaign months ago, it was not until the final weeks of the election that he began to attract national attention. But in Mississippi, speculation about Ms. Hyde-Smith's strength as a candidate had overflowed since March, when Governor Phil Bryant named her as a substitute for Mr. Cochran, rejecting the recommendations he named.
Another Republican, Chris McDaniel, joined the contest, running only four years after he almost defeated Mr. Cochran. Some Republican officials and strategists, including some of the most influential members of the Legislature, publicly and privately questioned whether Ms. Hyde-Smith could support a well-funded campaign against her. Even the White House did not initially embrace Ms. Hyde-Smith, as they feared she would fail in the race against Mr. McDaniel.
But Mr. Trump, betting on his enormous personal popularity in Mississippi, finally backed Ms. Hyde-Smith, who toured the state on a bus adorned with a photo of herself and the president.
Speaking to reporters in southern Mississippi on Monday, Mr. Trump tried to play down the "public" comment that generated much of the firestorm that enveloped Ms. Hyde-Smith's campaign.
"It really was something that was sad and it was a small change," the president said after a round table on criminal justice legislation in Gulfport. "She called me, she said," I said something that meant exactly different, "and I heard a loud and clear apology."
Democratic and Republican officials believed that Trump's visit would shake supporters of both candidates, after a first round of voting in which Mr. Espy won 40.6 percent, and Ms. Hyde-Smith took 41.5 percent. hundred.
At a glance, the memory and mathematics of Mississippi politics seemed to favor Ms. Hyde-Smith in a runoff: Republicans had been winning races in the Senate without interruption since the 1980s, and the party has won the last four campaigns for the mansion of the Greek Renaissance governor on East Capitol Street in Jackson.
And in Mississippi, which has the highest proportion of black residents in the nation, but where about 60 percent of the voting-age population is white, the political lines are often drawn in parallel to the racial ones.
Mr. Espy needed substantial participation among the blacks of Mississippi, who constituted more than a third of the population of voting age and who historically sided with the Democratic candidates. But the Democrats also acknowledged that Mr. Espy needed to win about a quarter of the white votes; To that end, some of his ads evoked the frustration of Mississippi by the way it is considered across the country.
But few people believed that Mississippi had many undecided voters in the final days of the campaign. The final releases of the candidates showed the dueling approaches to the race.
On Monday night, at a church in Jackson, Mr. Espy combined the approach to black voters with a message he hoped would appeal to disgruntled centrists, avoiding sharp partisan oratory as he urged supporters to pass on Tuesday. " marching to the polls as if it were a holiday. "
And in Tupelo, with Mr. Trump at his side, Mrs. Hyde-Smith enthusiastically bet again that an appeal to the right was the surest road to political survival in Mississippi.
"I will defend your conservative values," he said, "and that's what's on the ballot."