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Anti-LGBTQ Republican Cindy Hyde-Smith Wins Mississippi Senate Race

Cindy Hyde-Smith and Mike Espy
Cindy Hyde-Smith and Mike Espy

Hyde-Smith, who also has a history of problematic racial remarks, bested Mike Espy, who would have been the state's first black U.S. senator since Reconstruction.

Republican Cindy-Hyde-Smith has won Mississippi's special U.S. Senate election, besting Democrat Mike Espy, who was seeking to become the state's first black U.S. senator since Reconstruction -- and the first Democrat elected to the chamber from Mississippi since 1982.

Hyde-Smith, an ultraconservative with close ties to Donald Trump, was appointed to the seat by Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant in April when Sen. Thad Cochran retired due to health problems. Her win, which came in a runoff election after a racially charged campaign, means she will serve the remaining two years of Cochran's term.

The Associated Press called the race for Hyde-Smith Tuesday night with about 80 percent of precincts reporting. Hyde-Smith had 55.2 percent of the vote, Espy 44.8 percent. In the November 6 election they ran against two other candidates, but no one received a majority of the vote, forcing the two top finishers into a runoff. The outcome means Republicans will hold a 53-47 advantage in the Senate's new term.

Hyde-Smith is a former state senator and Mississippi agriculture commissioner. Espy is a former U.S. House member and was secretary of agriculture under President Bill Clinton. She has a history of, at the very least, racial insensitivity. She has also made anti-LGBTQ statements, while Espy has positioned himself as an ally.

Hyde-Smith drew outrage during the campaign for saying of a supporter, "If he invited me to a public hanging, I would be on the front row," a remark that struck many observers as a reference to the lynching of African-Americans.

Espy said of the comment, "It was harmful to Mississippians of goodwill who remember what happened decades ago. It is harmful because of the harmful stereotypes that so many people like me have worked to overcome."

Hyde-Smith eventually offered a lukewarm apology and insisted that there was no racial connotation to her remark. "For anyone that was offended by my comments, I certainly apologize," she said during a debate. "There was no ill will, no intent whatsoever in my statements." She added, "This comment was twisted and it was turned into a weapon to be used against me."

Hyde-Smith has a problematic history when it comes to racial issues. She attended a private high school that was established in 1970 by white Mississippians who didn't want to send their children to integrated schools. Her daughter attended a similar school.

As a state senator, she cosponsored a resolution to honor a Confederate soldier for fighting to "defend his homeland" in the Civil War and introduced a bill to name a section of highway after Confederate President Jefferson Davis. In 2014 she was photographed with Confederate artifacts at Davis's home, Beauvoir, now a museum in Biloxi, Miss. She had a Confederate army cap on her head, and on her Facebook account the photo bore the caption "Mississippi history at its best."

Hyde-Smith's anti-LGBTQ history includes her opposition to allowing same-sex commitment ceremonies to take place at the state-run Mississippi Agriculture & Forestry Museum. In 2012, before marriage equality became the law of the land, Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood agreed that same-sex couples could hold commitment ceremonies at the museum, after the Southern Poverty Law Center complained on behalf of a couple who had been turned away. Hyde-Smith, as agriculture commissioner, said she had no choice but to let the ceremony go on, but she "strongly objected" to it based on her "personal and religious beliefs." She also urged state legislators to change the law so the museum wouldn't have to allow such ceremonies.

Her campaign website makes no mention of LGBTQ issues but emphasizes her opposition to abortion, commitment to ending illegal immigration, and support for gun rights. The site describes her as "a rock-solid conservative for Mississippi" and highlights her close relationship with Trump, who campaigned for her in the final days before the runoff.

In contrast, near the top of the "Issues" page on Espy's site, it reads, "Mike is totally committed to ALL Mississippians having access to their rights of citizenship, due process, full equality, and specifically civil rights, regardless of age, race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or disability." It also notes his support for women's "basic right to make their own decisions about their personal health" and calls for improving health care in general, growing Mississippi's economy, and enhancing education.

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