JACKSON, Miss. (Reuters) – A white Republican senator’s casual reference to a “public hanging” has invigorated a special election runoff in Mississippi, fueling Democratic hopes of an upset in a conservative state with an ugly history of racist violence.
The U.S. Senate race between appointed Republican incumbent Cindy Hyde-Smith and Democrat Mike Espy, a black former congressman and U.S. agriculture secretary, will test the power of the black vote and the viability of Democrats in a region where Republicans have dominated for decades.
The Nov. 27 runoff caps a congressional election cycle drawn out by recounts and too-close-to-call races. The Mississippi result will not affect the balance of power in Congress, where Republicans will hold a Senate majority even if Hyde-Smith loses, and Democrats will control the House of Representatives.
Espy, 64, is a heavy underdog in the deep South state, which has not elected a Democrat to the Senate since 1982. But his campaign got a jolt of adrenaline when a video surfaced a week ago showing Hyde-Smith, 59, praising a supporter by saying: “If he invited me to a public hanging, I’d be on the front row.”
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