Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith, the Republican who took over Thad Cochran’s seat earlier this year, defeated Democratic challenger Mike Espy in a runoff election on Tuesday night.
AP called the race for Hyde-Smith shortly after 10:20 p.m. ET, a little more than two hours after polls closed in Mississippi.
Hyde-Smith’s campaign was marred by an endless litany of racist gaffes and scandals, beginning when she joked about attending a public hanging in front of supporters at a campaign event. Hyde-Smith—who attended a private high-school known as a “segregation academy” in her youth—went on to joke about voter suppression and accept donations (some were returned) from former Klansmen and other racists. Her campaign was so toxic that major corporate sponsors like Walmart and Major League Baseball asked her to return their campaign donations. (Hyde-Smith made a half-assed apology for her comments during the only debate held with Espy.)
On Monday, the day before the election, Capitol Police found two nooses and several “hate signs” outside of the Mississippi state capitol, which had anti-Hyde-Smith messages claiming the nooses were a reminder of the state’s history of racism.
Also on Monday, President Trump campaigned heavily for Hyde-Smith, hosting two rallies in Tupelo and Biloxi to urge his base to get out the vote.
Per NBC News:
“On Tuesday Nov. 27, thousands of Mississippians will vote for a senator. We need someone who respects the lives of lynch victims,” one sign said, according to a Capitol Police spokesman who read it to NBC News.
“We’re hanging nooses to remind people that times haven’t changed,” read another sign.
Espy, a black former Congressman and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, was always a long shot to take the seat—he would have been the first black senator from Mississippi since Reconstruction—but Republican and Democratic operatives thought the race tightened after Hyde-Smith’s repeated racist blunders. It wasn’t to be, however, and her victory tonight means Senate Republicans will have a 53-47 advantage over the Democratic caucus to start the next Congress.