MS voters head to polls for Senate runoff Tuesday

Minnie Murray
November 30, 2018

MS voters are deciding a racially charged Senate election that has dredged up the Deep South state's ugly past.

MS is preparing for a US Senate run-off on Tuesday between Republican senator Cindy Hyde-Smith and Democrat Mike Espy in a contest that has increasingly taken on racial overtones.

Some conflicting information exists around when exactly Google donated to the Hyde-Smith campaign, but in a statement to press, the company claimed to be unaware of her comments when that check was written.

Nevertheless she is expected to win in the staunchly Republican state.

Hyde-Smith has campaigned as an unwavering supporter of President Donald Trump, who campaigned with her on Monday, praising her at a rally in the northeastern MS city of Tupelo for voting to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.

MS - which still has the Confederate battle emblem on its state flag - has a history of racially motivated lynchings.

Another sign noted that MS had the highest record of lynchings between 1882 and 1968 - a statement backed by data on the NAACP's website. Cindy Hyde-Smith's campaign wouldn't mind maybe returning that $6,897. He was endorsed by former Vice President Joe Biden and three Democrats who are potential 2020 presidential candidates - former Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and Senators Kamala Harris of California and Cory Booker of New Jersey - travelled to MS to campaign for him.

But Republicans CBS News spoke with were much more likely to be there to support the president than Hyde-Smith, although some acknowledged that her winning will help his agenda.

Trump said Monday at a campaign rally in MS that he is sending the caravan members a clear message: "Turn around and go back home".

One Republican working on the runoff who requested anonymity to discuss private polling said the race has tightened recently, but expressed confidence Hyde-Smith would be elected.

A state spokesman says five additional nooses have been found hanging in trees outside the Mississippi Capitol, bringing the total to seven.

The sign also read: "We need someone who respects the lives of lynch victims".

President Donald Trump said he had spoken to Hyde-Smith about the lynching comment and said she felt "very badly".

She said, "We've prayed more than you can imagine - down at the heart of our home, at church, we prayed a few times before we came here". A win for the GOP in MS would further pad the party's majority in the Senate, even as Democrats have taken a solid majority in the House.

So could a Democrat win?

The California-based search giant donated $US5,000 to the Hyde-Smith campaign on November 2, before the controversial remarks were made.

"We can't afford a senator who embarrasses us and reinforces the stereotypes we've worked so hard to overcome", one ad for the Democrat said. But if black voters rise to 40 percent of the electorate and Espy wins 9 out of 10, he needs less than a quarter of white votes for victory. And the simplest, most common reason why they support her?

While Republicans did well in Senate races, Democrats took control of the US House of Representatives from Republicans in midterm congressional elections three weeks ago.

Since the controversy, Hyde-Smith has stayed out of the spotlight and refused to elaborate on her comments or apology.

Why is the election still ongoing?

State officials said the nooses were accompanied by handwritten signs mentioning lynchings and Tuesday's special Senate runoff, which has drawn attention to Mississippi's history of racially motivated violence.

Hyde-Smith was projected to win by about 70,000 votes over Espy, a former congressman and agriculture secretary under Barack Obama.

Polls close at 8 p.m. ET. As it stands, Republicans will hold 52 seats next year, and Democrats will have 47.

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