A Mississippi Republican who drew scorn for making racially insensitive comments managed to hold her US Senate seat Tuesday in the final race of 2018, networks projected, avoiding what could have been an embarrassing setback for President Donald Trump.
Incumbent Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith was leading Democratic challenger Mike Espy, a former congressman, by 55.2 percent to 44.8 percent with four fifths of precincts reporting, according to Fox News and NBC.
The runoff in the Republican stronghold between Hyde-Smith, who is white, and Espy, who is black, came under national scrutiny when unsettling remarks by the senator, who said she would attend a “public hanging” for a supporter, were widely interpreted as alluding to Mississippi’s history of lynchings and other racist violence.
Hyde-Smith’s victory preserves the 53-47 majority that Republicans will hold in the Senate when the new Congress convenes in January, and allowed Trump to dodge a political bullet in the Deep South, which under normal circumstances is reliable Republican territory.
“Congratulations to Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith on your big WIN in the Great State of Mississippi,” Trump tweeted. “We are all very proud of you!”
Trump held a pair of 11th-hour campaign rallies in Mississippi to prop up Hyde-Smith’s campaign, which had run into trouble due to her remarks that Espy and others criticized as racist and un-democratic.
“Mr President, thank you so much for all of your help,” Hyde-Smith said during a victory speech, stressing that the race was about preserving the “conservative values” of the state.
“Mississippians know me and they know my heart, and thank you for stepping up,” she added.