Cindy Hyde-Smith won the last remaining U.S. Senate seat in a special runoff election by defeating Mike Espy on Nov. 27 with 55 percent of the vote.
Hyde-Smith, who was appointed as interim senator in March by Gov. Phil Bryant after Thad Cochran’s retirement, managed to survive weeks of national scrutiny after a video surfaced in which she said if a supporter invited her to a “public hanging,” she would “be on the front row.”
The controversy drew President Donald Trump to the state, where he held two different rallies the day before the election for Hyde-Smith in Tupelo and Biloxi and said he knew “where her heart is, and her heart is good.”
“Congratulations to Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith on your big WIN in the Great State of Mississippi. We are all very proud of you!” Trump tweeted.
In Lafayette County, voter turnout was at 44 percent, with Hyde-Smith receiving 50 percent of the vote and Espy receiving 48 percent of the vote.
Melissa Scallan, communications director for the Hyde-Smith campaign, said that the campaign is very excited and the results show that “Mississippians turned out in force.”
“(Mississippi voters) did not believe the stuff that people were saying about her,” Scallan said. “They know she’s going to represent them in Washington.”
Scallon declined to go into detail about how Hyde-Smith’s comments played a part in the election results.
“We’re not talking about that. That’s in the past,” Scallan said. “She made her apologies for that. We’re looking forward towards the future.”
Mike Espy, a former U.S. Congressman and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture under President Bill Clinton, sought to deliver an upset in a heavily conservative state and become the state’s first black U.S. Senator since Reconstruction. His hopes were bolstered by Hyde-Smith’s “public hanging” comments, but he ultimately lost.
He also faced scrutiny for accepting $725,000 as part of a lobbying contract from an Ivory Coast dictator currently on trial for crimes against humanity.
The Espy campaign declined to comment on Tuesday night, but released a tweet saying they were proud of the campaign even though the loss was “not the result” they were hoping for.
“Make no mistake — tonight is the beginning, not the end,” Espy tweeted. “When this many people show up, stand up and speak up, it is not a loss. It is a moment. It is a movement. And we are not going to stop moving our state forward just because of one election. I look forward to finding new ways to do just that.”
Austin Barbour, a Republican strategist and nephew to former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, said Mississippi voters responded to Trump’s rallies, which impacted rural areas throughout the state.
“Cindy Hyde-Smith was a Republican, and Mike Espy was a Democrat. And that still means a lot in Mississippi when it comes down to certain issues,” Barbour said.
Cristen Hemmins, chair of the Lafayette County Democratic party, said she is disappointed and embarrassed that Mississippi chose to elect Hyde-Smith.
“She’s proven that she doesn’t speak for most Mississippians and can’t really represent all of us. And it makes the state, quite frankly, look backwards, as most people already think of us,” Hemmins said.
Despite the results, Hemmins said she has a lot of hope for the state and the county.
“No one thought this race would be close,” Hemmins said. “The fact that the president had to come down and do two campaign stops for an incumbent Republican says a lot.”
Brad Mayo, chairman of the Lafayette County Republican party, said he is glad the election is over because it feels like “D.C. politics came down to Mississippi.”
“This election was just, sort of, to verify or not verify (Hyde-Smith’s) appointment by the Governor,” Mayo said.
Hyde-Smith’s election brings relief to the Republican party by bringing the Republican majority to 53-47
Jordan Holman and Grace Marion contributed reporting to this article.