Democrat Mike Espy lost the Mississippi Senate runoff election to Cindy Hyde-Smith Tuesday night. But in reality, racism won as the state’s citizens cast ballots for a woman who has made no secret of her affinity for white supremacy.
The election was a direct referendum on the president, whose multiple rallies for Hyde-Smith, who has been embroiled in a series of racist exposes, probably helped push the Republican over the finish line.
During his concession speech, Espy noted that what he had done was “still a historical achievement.”
While early voting numbers were not immediately available, the NAACP pointed to “civic and democratic participation” in the election for why Espy may have fallen short.
“While we are hopeful that the Senator-elect will prove herself worthy of her new office, this election demonstrates the need to continue broadening the tent of civic and democratic participation in our nation,” the pioneering civil rights organization said in a brief statement. “We must continue to organize, empower Americans to make their voices heard, and use and harness this power to produce real change in Mississippi and nationwide.”
Hyde-Smith and Espy were the top vote-getters among several candidates in a special election to replace retiring GOP Sen. Thad Cochran. A runoff was necessary because none of the candidates won more than 50 percent of the votes on Election Day.
Espy was a clear underdog in the runoff election to unseat Hyde-Smith, who was appointed by the governor to complete Cochran’s term. A recent survey showed that Hyde-Smith had a 10-point lead.
However, fearful Republicans scrambled on Monday to prevent Hyde-Smith from losing the Senate seat, prompting President Donald Trump to hold rallies in the state for Hyde-Smith in the hope of turning out his base to vote for her.
The worry stemmed from an unguarded moment on her campaign trail when Hyde-Smith revealed her racist attitude toward African Americans. At a Nov. 2 campaign stop, she praised a longtime supporter. “If he invited me to a public hanging, I’d be on the front row,” she was caught saying on a video posted to social media. In the following weeks, more revelations about her undying love for the Confederacy surfaced.
That created a possible opening for Espy. Black anger over Hyde-Smith’s remarks was expected to drive African-Americans to the polls to cast their ballots for Espy, a former congressman who also served as agriculture secretary in the Clinton administration.
With Blacks comprising about 38 percent of Mississippi’s population, some analysts believed Espy had a path to victory if Black voter turnout reached 40 percent of the electorate and white moderate Republicans flipped to his side on Tuesday.