Former state agricultural commissioner Cindy Hyde-Smith continued her ascension to the heights of Mississippi politics with a victory in the runoff of her Senatorial race against Democratic opponent Mike Espy on Tuesday night, November 27.
Unofficial results had Senator Hyde-Smith holding a 54-46 lead over Espy with 99 percent of the ballots counted when the contest was called in her favor, according to the Washington Post. The eight-point difference in percentage was a much more definitive margin than that which prevailed in the original 41.2-40.8 result that saw Senator Hyde-Smith fall short of a majority vote on November 6.
Newsweek notes that with the victory, Senator Hyde-Smith brings the number of women who will serve in the U.S. Senate to a record 24. She raises the number of women representing the Republican party to seven, compared to the 17 women senators who are Democrats. Considering that men continue to hold a disproportionate 76 seats, what the outcome means in regards to closing the gender gap in government is a bright spot that is being celebrated on both sides of the aisle.
However, that’s about where Senator Hyde-Smith’s potential as a unifying force comes to an end after she ran a campaign that was peppered with the kind of racially insensitive messaging that typically alienates African-American constituencies.
Republican U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith made history Tuesday by becoming Mississippi's first woman elected to Congress. https://t.co/tIuhZWeJG7— NBCWashington (@nbcwashington) November 28, 2018
As Time Magazine points out in its reporting of her victory, Senator Hyde-Smith’s chances of defeating Espy appeared to dwindle following a series of controversial statements that promised to drive African-Americans to the polls. In one instance, she seemed to advocate for voter suppression by encouraging that the state makes it “just a little more difficult” for liberals to turn out. The more shocking remarks came when a video surfaced to show Hyde-Smith suggesting that she’d be totally willing to attend a public hanging to appease a supporter. “I’d be on the front row,” she is quoted as saying.
The comments would stir a backlash that proved disturbing enough for some of Hyde-Smith’s biggest donors to demand their contributions be paid back. Walmart, Google, Major League Baseball, and Facebook were reported by the New York Post to be among the parties that withdrew their support. Unfortunately for Espy, the dissent that Hyde-Smith faced would not translate to her detriment, as Tuesday night’s final tally revealed.
The backing she received from President Trump certainly didn’t hurt the interim senator. He made sure to touch down in Mississippi for appearances in Biloxi and Tupelo ahead of the vote, and would tweet out a congratulation afterward. However, in her victory speech, Sen. Hyde-Smith credited the people themselves for determining their future, stating that “The reason we won is because Mississippi knows me, and knows my heart.”