JACKSON — Republican U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith has been reelected in Mississippi, defeating Democrat Mike Espy in a repeat of a 2018 special election.
Hyde-Smith, 61, presented herself as a loyalist to President Donald Trump, while Espy said Republican policies have failed to help many Mississippians, particularly those who need health care.
“The only thing better than beating Mike Espy is to beat him twice,” Hyde-Smith told cheering supporters at her victory party in Jackson.
Hyde-Smith is the only woman to have represented Mississippi in the House or Senate. She did not accept debate invitations this year, drawing criticism from Espy. Hyde-Smith’s campaign tweeted “100 Accomplishments in 100 days,” emphasizing her support of agriculture, efforts to bring federal money to the state and opposition to abortion.
Espy, 66, is a former U.S. agriculture secretary and was trying to become the state’s first Black senator since Reconstruction.
Jimmy L. Edwards, a Libertarian candidate was also in the Senate race and ran a low-budget campaign.
Republican-dominated Mississippi last elected a Democrat in the Senate in 1982. The state has a 38 percent Black population. For Espy to win, he needed a strong turnout among Black voters loyal to the Democratic party and from white voters disenchanted with the Trump administration.
“It was good and evil on the ballot today,” Hyde-Smith said late Tuesday at her party. “It was protecting the life of the unborn on the ballot today. It was the Second Amendment that was on the ballot today. It was socialism that was on the ballot today.”
Moments later, Hyde-Smith said: “I want to be the senator for all Mississippians.”
Espy said he called Hyde-Smith to concede.
“We did everything we could do to win this race, but it wasn’t enough,” Espy said at his Election Night party.
He said his campaign built a campaign structure that could help other Democrats win races later in Mississippi.
In fundraising appeals, the Espy campaign referred to Hyde-Smith as “Confederate Cindy” to remind people about photos that surfaced during the 2018 race. They came from a 2014 Facebook post by Hyde-Smith and showed her visiting the last home of Confederate president Jefferson Davis, which is on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Hyde-Smith wrote that it was “Mississippi history at its best!” In one photo, Hyde-Smith held a firearm and wore a cap like those used by Confederate soldiers.
Also during the 2018 race, a video showed Hyde-Smith complimenting a supporter by saying she would attend a “public hanging” if the man invited her, prompting Espy and others to say she was minimizing Mississippi’s history of lynchings.
Sheila Jarrell of Picayune, who works part-time in a home furnishings gift shop, said Tuesday that she voted for Trump and Hyde-Smith. Jarrell, 65, who is white, said she had never heard about the senator’s public hanging comment.
“But I do know that a lot of things are taken out of context,” Jarrell said. “And I don’t believe that anybody in their right mind would say something like that.”
Jarrell said she likes that Hyde-Smith is loyal to Trump and that the president endorsed the senator.
“She seems like she’s a good candidate, so I went along with whatever Trump recommended,” Jarrell said.
Harold Littles, 61, a youth pastor and retired federal worker from Picayune, said he voted for Biden and Espy. Littles said Espy “has good ideas” about education and improving Mississippi and its economy.
“I don’t have anything about Ms. Smith, but she hasn’t proven during her short tenure ... that she cares as much about the state of Mississippi as private interests,” Littles said.
Asked about Hyde-Smith’s “public hanging” comment, Littles, who is Black, said: “If you know about Mississippi, you know that hangings, lynchings and mobs” are part of its history.
“I think Mike is trying to move from that,” Littles said.
Jimmy L. Edwards, a Libertarian candidate, also was in this year’s Senate race but spent little to campaign.