President Donald Trump told Mississippians on Monday that a vote for Democrat Mike Espy is a vote for “socialism and open borders” as he urged supporters to elect Republican Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith in Tuesday’s Senate runoff.
“If you let (House Minority Leader) Nancy Pelosi, (Rep.) Maxine Waters and (Senate Minority Leader) Chuck Schumer win the Mississippi Senate seat they will try to erase all our gains, reverse all our progress and impose their extreme, job-killing agenda,” Trump told a rally at Biloxi’s Mississippi Coast Coliseum.
Hyde-Smith followed up by urging the crowd of about 10,000 to tell friends and neighbors to vote for her to keep the Mississippi Senate seat in Republicans hands. The state hasn’t had a Democratic senator since 1982.
“What’s on the ballot is not just my name, Cindy Hyde-Smith, it is your conservative values,” she said. “That’s what’s on the ballot tomorrow.”
Trump ended a swing through the ruby red Republican state stumping for the Republican in Biloxi after visits to Tupelo and Gulfport, where he stressed many of the same themes he used as he traveled the country during the midterm election campaign, notably a strong defense of his plans to tighten the U.S.-Mexico border.
He offered one light moment In Tupelo, the birthplace of Elvis Presley, where Trump invoked the memory of The King. “Other than the blond hair,” Trump said, “they said I looked like Elvis.”
Hyde-Smith finds herself in a potentially tight race after a video surfaced from a Nov. 2 campaign event that showed Hyde-Smith saying at a campaign event that she would be “on the front row” if a supporter invited her to a “public hanging.”
A second video showed her telling a group at a campaign stop in Starkville, Mississippi, earlier this month that “There’s a lot of liberal folks in those other schools who maybe we don’t want to vote. Maybe we want to make it just a little more difficult.”
The remarks in a state with a tortured legacy of lynching African Americans and suppressing their votes triggered swift criticism from within the state and across the nation. Several donors, including Major League Baseball and Walmart, requested that Hyde-Smith’s campaign return their donations.
Hyde-Smith apologized for the public hanging remark last week during a televised debate, saying “There was no ill will, no intent whatsoever in my statements.” Her campaign said the voter suppression comment was a joke.
During the debate, Hyde-Smith said her public hanging remark was “twisted” and “it was turned into a weapon to be used against me — a political weapon used for nothing but personal and political gain by my opponent.”
Trump endorsed Hyde-Smith before the Nov. 6 primary, when she ran against Espy and Republican conservative firebrand Chris McDaniel, who almost defeated Cochran four years ago. Hyde-Smith was appointed to fill Cochran’s seat earlier this year after he retired.
She has voted with Trump 100 percent of the time, according to an analysis by FiveThirtyEight. And she delivered perhaps the strongest Senate floor speech supporting Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination after attempted rape allegations against him threatened to derail his bid.
Hyde-Smith finished first in the primary with 41.5 percent to Espy’s 40.6 percent. McDaniel received 16.5 percent.
The runoff is being held Tuesday because no candidate received over 50 percent of the vote.
Veteran election observers say Tuesday’s contest hinges on turnout, which traditionally is notoriously low in runoffs. Democrats predict, and Republicans worry, that Hyde-Smith’s comments have energized African American voters in a state with a 37 percent black population. An estimated one-third of the Nov. 6 voters were black.
Espy received 91 percent of that vote and 15 percent of the white vote in the primary. Espy’s campaign is hoping to repeat the type of African American voter turnout that propelled Democratic Sen. Doug Jones over former Judge Roy Moore in neighboring red state Alabama a year ago.
Money and political star power from both parties have flooded the state. Trump’s appearance Monday followed Espy campaign swings by Democratic Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey and Kamala Harris of California, who are both potential 2020 presidential candidates.
Trump brought Vice President Mike Pence and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., to Monday’s rally. Pence told the audience “I’m here for one reason and one reason only: Mississippi and America needs Cindy Hyde-Smith back in the United States Senate.”