Trump to support ‘public hanging’ Republican in Mississippi

Cindy Hyde-Smith still fighting for Senate as race went to run-off over requisite votes

US senator Cindy Hyde-Smith with President Donald Trump: said she would be in the “front row” if invited to a “public hanging”. Photograph: Jonathan Ernst

US senator Cindy Hyde-Smith with President Donald Trump: said she would be in the “front row” if invited to a “public hanging”. Photograph: Jonathan Ernst

 

US president Donald Trump will travel to Mississippi on Monday in a bid to shore up support for Republican candidate Cindy Hyde-Smith ahead of Tuesday’s run-off election for the state’s Senate seat.

The Mississippi Senate race went to a run-off after no candidate received the requisite 50 per cent of votes necessary to become the junior senator for the state on voting day on November 6th.

But the special election race has become increasingly acrimonious – and unexpectedly tight – after video footage emerged of Ms Hyde-Smith saying she would be in the “front row” if invited to a “public hanging”.

The comments were made by the former state agriculture secretary at an event in Tupelo, Mississippi, earlier this month and have provoked outrage in the state, which has a dark history of race relations. More lynchings – public hangings of mostly black people – took place in Mississippi than any other state in the US from the late 1880s until the 1960s.

Walmart withdrawal

Several companies, including Walmart, have withdrawn support for the Republican candidate on the back of the controversy.

Ms Hyde-Smith defended her comments as a joke, claiming that “any attempt to turn this into a negative connotation is ridiculous”. During the only televised debate between the candidates last week, she apologised to “anyone that was offended by my comments”, insisting that “there was no ill will, no intent whatsoever in my statements”.

But she accused her Democratic opponent, Mike Espy, of politicising the issue. “My comments were taken and twisted and used as a political weapon against me by my opponent,” she said.

Mr Espy is a former US congressman and was agriculture secretary under Bill Clinton, before he was forced to resign over ethical issues including an investigation over the acceptance of gifts. He aims to become the first black senator from Mississippi since the “reconstruction” era that followed the American civil war.

Footage has also emerged of Ms Hyde Smith joking about making it less easy for liberals to vote – also a sensitive issue in an election cycle where issues of voter representation were prominent.

Approximately 37 per cent of Mississippi’s population is black. But while Democrats are hopeful of making inroads into another southern state following Doug Jones’s special election victory in neighbouring Alabama last year, the state is still predominantly Republican, and Ms Hyde-Smith remains the frontrunner.

Unsuitability for role

Nonetheless, her gaffes ahead of the election appear to have damaged her standing, with many suggesting her mishandling of the controversy shows her unsuitability for the role. The 59 year old assumed the Senate seat of Thad Cochran, who stepped down for health reasons in April, becoming the first woman to represent the state of Mississippi in Congress.

While she was widely expected to be confirmed by voters to retain the seat on November 6th, she now finds herself in a tighter-than-predicted battle. Unusually, Ms Hyde-Smith was appointed to the Mississippi state Senate as a Democrat but switched parties in 2010, citing her conservative beliefs.

Mr Trump, who campaigned with Ms Hyde-Smith in August, will hold rallies in two locations in the state on Monday – his first return to the campaign trail since this month’s midterm elections.

Tweeting from his Mar-a-lago estate in Florida on Sunday before he returned to Washington, Mr Trump flagged his two rallies, noting that Tuesday was “a very important election” for Ms Hyde-Smith. “She is an outstanding person who is strong on the Border, Crime, Military, our great Vets, Healthcare & the 2nd A[mendment].” He concluded: “Needed in D.C.”

High-profile Democrats including Senators Kamala Harris and Cory Booker have campaigned for Mr Epsy in recent days.