Mississippi Senate race pits Espy against Hyde-Smith: What to know about the runoff election

Republican Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith held onto the seat she was appointed to earlier this year after she defeated Democrat Mike Espy in the Nov. 27 runoff election – the final Senate race to be decided in the 2018 midterm elections. She will finish the final two years of a term started by GOP Sen. Thad Cochran, who … Continue reading “Mississippi Senate race pits Espy against Hyde-Smith: What to know about the runoff election”

Republican Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith held onto the seat she was appointed to earlier this year after she defeated Democrat Mike Espy in the Nov. 27 runoff election – the final Senate race to be decided in the 2018 midterm elections.

She will finish the final two years of a term started by GOP Sen. Thad Cochran, who resigned in April due to health issues. She is also the first woman ever elected to the Senate by Mississippi.

Her victory gives Republicans a net gain of two Senate seats in the midterm elections and a 53-47 advantage in the upper chamber, a margin that could prove critical in contentious confirmation battles to come.

Read on for a look at what to know about the candidates and the runoff election.

Who was running?

Democrat Mike Espy and Republican Cindy Hyde-Smith advanced to the runoff election after the Nov. 6 contest. (AP Photo)

Hyde-Smith and Espy advanced to the runoff after the Nov. 6 election.

Hyde-Smith was appointed to the seat earlier this year after GOP Sen. Thad Cochran retired due to health issues. The 59-year-old is the state’s first female senator.

Prior to her appointment, Hyde-Smith worked as Mississippi’s agriculture commissioner. She also served as a state senator until 2012, initially as a Democrat before switching parties in 2010.

Espy, 64, was the Agriculture secretary during the Clinton administration. Prior to that, Espy represented Mississippi in Congress. If he had been elected, Espy would have been Mississippi’s first black senator since the Reconstruction era.

Espy considers himself a “moderate” on many issues, including abortion, according to The Clarion-Ledger. While he told the newspaper he opposes abortion, he believes Roe v. Wade is settled “law of the land.”

President Trump endorsed Hyde-Smith and campaigned with her ahead of the runoff election.

Why was there a runoff?

In Mississippi, candidates compete in a jungle primary – meaning, all candidates ran in the November election.

On Nov. 6, four candidates sought the Senate seat: Hyde-Smith, Espy, Republican Chris McDaniel and Democrat Tobey Bernard Bartee. Since no candidate gained more than 50 percent of the vote, Espy and Hyde-Smith headed for the Nov. 27 runoff.

Anything else to know?

Both Espy and Hyde-Smith dealt with controversies throughout their campaigns.

Espy has faced some ethical questions for past work he’s done, including raking in $750,000 for lobbying work done on behalf of an African despot currently on trial for crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court. Espy appeared to have misled people about how much he made for the work and when exactly he terminated his contract with the Ivory Coast.

Additionally, Espy was criticized for working for a company that paid $2.5 million to settle a lawsuit concerning bribing of officials in a bid to score lucrative contracts with Mississippi’s state prison.

Espy left Clinton’s Cabinet after he was accused of improperly taking gifts and indicted on 30 felony charges. However, he was acquitted of any wrongdoing by a jury.

Hyde-Smith, meanwhile, made a series of gaffes on the campaign trail.

She apologized after a video was released of her praising a local cattle rancher by saying, “If he invited me to a public hanging, I’d be on the front row.” The remark struck a nerve with many in Mississippi, given its history of lynchings.

Hyde-Smith again ignited controversy after she was an old photo of her wearing a replica hat of a Confederate soldier circulated.

She was also under intense scrutiny for having graduated from a white private school that was founded after court-ordered desegregation of public schools. According to the Jackson Free Press, schools such as Lawrence County Academy were created so “white parents could avoid having to send their children to schools with black students.”

Multiple companies and organizations – including the MLB, Walmart and Union Pacific – requested campaign donations be returned following the public hanging comment.

Fox News’ Lukas Mikelionis, Gregg Re and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Kaitlyn Schallhorn is a Reporter for Fox News. Follow her on Twitter: @K_Schallhorn.

Google joins groups demanding refunds of contributions to Cindy Hyde-Smith campaign

Internet giant Google became the latest big-name corporation to request a return of donations to Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, R-Miss., hours ahead of Tuesday's runoff election.

A Google spokeswoman confirmed to Politico and other news outlets that the company was requesting a refund, but did not elaborate further. Records showed the company donated $5,000 to Hyde-Smith's campaign earlier this month.

Hyde-Smith has been heavily criticized for a remark she made on Nov. 2, four days before she secured her place in the runoff against Democrat Mike Espy. While attempting to praise a supporter, the one-time state legislator and agriculture commissioner said: "If he invited me to a public hanging, I'd be on the front row."

Mississippi has a history of racially motivated lynchings and violence against people who sought voting rights for black citizens. About 38 percent of the state's residents are black.

Video

Hyde-Smith has come under additional scrutiny in the intervening days after a photo showing her wearing a replica hat of a Confederate soldier made the rounds on social media, as did a video in which she mused about making it harder for "liberal folks" to vote.

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On Monday, Major League Baseball asked that Hyde-Smith return its $5,000 donation. An MLB spokesperson told USA Today: "The contribution was made in connection with an event that MLB lobbyists were asked to attend. MLB has requested that the contribution be returned."

Last week, retail megastore chain Walmart asked for its $2,000 donation back from Hyde-Smith and tweeted out a statement that her "comments clearly do not reflect the values of our company and associates."

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Railroad owner Union Pacific and medical device manufacturer Boston Scientific have asked for their contributions to be returned.

Fox News’ Andrew O’Reilly and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Trump, at Mississippi rallies ahead of pivotal Senate special election, touts border security and NASA

With just hours to go before a pivotal special election in Mississippi that will determine the strength of the GOP's Senate majority next year, President Trump on Monday evening touted NASA's Mars landing, vowed to redouble his border security efforts, and accused some caravan migrants of using children as human shields.

His comments came at a fiery rally in Tupelo, Miss. for incumbent GOP Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, who is facing off in Tuesday's special election runoff against Democrat Mike Espy, and at a roundtable shortly afterwards. Trump later held another rally in Biloxi hours later Monday evening, underscoring the importance of the race for Senate Republicans.

In keeping with the Christmas spirit, Trump entered the second rally through a wall that appeared to look like a chimney as fake snow rained down from above.

Voting for Hyde-Smith is "so important," Trump told the cheering crowd in Tupelo, as Republicans look to expand their Senate majority to 53 seats.

In between the Tupelo and Biloxi rallies, Trump attended a roundtable with Mississippi law enforcement leaders on his bipartisan criminal justice reform effort. There, he charged that some migrants — whom he identified as "grabbers" – rushed the San Ysidro, Calif., point of entry on Sunday, essentially using children as human shields at the border. In a statement late Monday, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen backed up Trump's comments.

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Hyde-Smith was appointed in March to fill retired Republican Sen. Thad Cochran's seat, and is now seeking to finish out the last two years of his term. Espy, who served in former President Bill Clinton's administration, is seeking to become Mississippi's first black senator since Reconstruction.

"Your vote on Tuesday will decide whether we build on our extraordinary achievements, or whether we empower the radical Democrats to obstruct our progress," Trump said.

The president was joined on stage at one point by South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, who told him he has "done a hell of a job."

"We’re sending a clear message to the caravans, to the trespassers — go back home."

— President Trump

"If you like [Supreme Court Justice Brett] Kavanuagh, there's more coming," Graham, one of Kavanaugh's staunchest defenders during his Senate confirmation hearings earlier in the year, told the crowd. "Let's win tomorrow." (The Senate has exclusive authority to confirm all federal judicial appointments.)

The president briefly pivoted to discuss Sunday's confrontation at the border, when hundreds of caravan migrants rushed the port of entry at San Ysidro, Calif., and were dispersed with tear gas from U.S. Border Patrol authorities.

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"Are we doing OK on the border, folks?" Trump said to cheers of "Build that wall."

"We're not going to have it — you've got to come into our country legally," Trump said. "We have a lot of [the wall] built, and it's going up. And the rest of it — it's pretty nasty looking wire, isn't it? We're doing well."

He added: "We're not letting people into our country unless they come in legally — and we want people to come in through merit. We have great companies coming into our country. We need workers. We want them to come in. But they have to be talented people who can love our country — they have to come in through merit, not through a [visa] lottery."

Criticizing migrants who waved their home country's flags and threw rocks at U.S. officials — even as they sought entry into the U.S. — Trump unequivocally condemned Sunday's attempted incursion at San Ysidro.

"We will not tolerate any form of assault or attack upon our border agents, like happened yesterday," Trump said. "We're sending a clear message to the caravans, to the trespassers — go back home."

Video

He then touted historically low African-American unemployment rates and told the crowd that "we made history" on Election Day "by expanding our Senate majority."

For her part, Hyde-Smith said she was "honored" by Trump's visit and emphasized her support for the Second Amendment and the president's judicial nominees.

"I've worked very, very hard for you," Hyde-Smith told the crowd. "I will stand for your conservative values, and that is what is on the ballot tomorrow."

"We have reawakened NASA. And that’s a good thing."

— President Trump

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After discussing his plans for a Space Force, Trump highlighted the historic landing of a NASA spacecraft on Mars earlier in the day.

"Today, we just landed on Mars, did you hear that?" Trump said. "They were celebrating at NASA. We have reawakened NASA. And that's a good thing." He added: "A lot of the rich guys like rockets. So we charge them rent. Just make sure you have an American flag on the rocket."

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He then immediately turned to the Iran nuclear deal, which he called "one-sided" and pulled the U.S. out of earlier this year, and touted his decision to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem.

Large crowds gathered hours in advance of the rally at Tupelo Regional Airport, where GOP Rep. Trent Kelly led supporters in a chant of "Build the wall" as Air Force One approached for landing.

The president carried Mississippi over Hillary Clinton by nearly 20 percentage points in the 2016 presidential election, and GOP Sen. Roger Wicker won re-election by a similar margin earlier in the month.

Hyde-Smith also remains popular among black Mississippi Republicans, according to local reports.

But Trump cautioned voters not to make assumptions or stay home. "Don't take any chances," he warned the crowd in Tupelo Monday evening.

And Democrats have seen some cause for optimism in recent weeks, fueled by a series of missteps by Hyde-Smith.

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The incumbent Republican lawmaker was recorded during a campaign stop saying that if a supporter invited her to a "public hanging," she would be in "the front row.” She has since said her comment was made in jest and denied any racial connotation.

Speaking to reporters outside the White House earlier Monday before flying to Mississippi, Trump said Hyde-Smith "felt very badly, and she certainly didn't mean that, and she's already apologized and I think very strongly."

He said her comments were "taken a certain way, but she certainly didn't mean it."

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President Trump speaks to reports outside the White House as he departs for a campaign rally for Republican Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith.

"I've known her for a period of time now as a senator — she's been an excellent senator," Trump said. "I'm going there — I'm going to make, I guess, two rallies on top of everything else. And I hope you're all coming."

Amid fallout from those remarks, Major League Baseball asked that Hyde-Smith return the organization’s $5,000 donation. Other organizations have made similar requests.

Hyde-Smith also co-sponsored a bill in the Mississippi state Senate in 2007 that would have honored a former Confederate soldier for his efforts to "defend his homeland."

The resolution, which was first reported over the weekend, called a Mississippi resident identified as Effie Lucille Nicholson Pharr "the last known living 'Real Daughter' of the Confederacy living in Mississippi" and praised her father's work to "defend his homeland."

Meanwhile, Hyde-Smith's campaign sharply pushed back against a report in the Jackson Free Press over the weekend that she had attended what was described as a "segregation academy" in the 1970s to avoid studying with black students, calling it a "new low."

Gregg Re is an editor for Fox News. Follow him on Twitter @gregg_re.

Mississippi runoff: All eyes on McDaniel voters as Hyde-Smith banks on their support

With voting underway in Mississippi’s Senate runoff race, the big question for the final election of the 2018 midterm season revolves around a candidate who is not even on the ballot anymore.

Chris McDaniel, a firebrand Republican state senator, sought to upset the state's GOP establishment when he ran for the U.S. Senate seat held by Cindy Hyde-Smith. The Republican incumbent – appointed in March to fill a vacancy – came out on top in the four-way Nov. 6 election, but McDaniel was able to earn enough votes that no candidate secured a 50 percent majority to win the race outright, forcing Tuesday's runoff.

Now, his supporters are a key factor as Hyde-Smith looks to lock down the seat in Tuesday's runoff against Democratic former Secretary of Agriculture Mike Espy.

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Thanks to a series of high profile flubs by Hyde-Smith and a huge push to boost turnout among Democrats, the race promises to be the most competitive Senate race the state has seen in decades. Unclear is whether McDaniel’s conservative supporters will show up to the polls on Tuesday or stay home. But if even a slice of the voters who went for McDaniel — 17 percent of the Nov. 6 vote — back Hyde-Smith on Tuesday, the incumbent might not have so tough a time.

“There has been a lot work done to make sure that McDaniel’s supporters will turn out, but the hardest part about runoff elections is getting people to turn out,” Jennifer Duffy, the senior editor for the Cook Political Report, told Fox News. “If they don’t turn out, McDaniel will be seen as the spoiler because if it wasn’t for him, there would not have been a runoff in the first place.”

McDaniel blasted Hyde-Smith during the primary campaign – accusing her of being a secret Democrat and not endorsing President Trump’s agenda. But the state lawmaker changed his tune following his defeat in early November.

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“Mr. Espy cannot be allowed to win this seat,” McDaniel said shortly after conceding the race, according to Mississippi Today. “President Trump wants us to unite, and we will unite. We will back Cindy Hyde-Smith.”

McDaniel added: “Now I don’t agree with her. I don’t believe she’s the conservative for this state. But I can tell you unequivocally that Mike Espy has no business being anywhere near the United States Senate. We unite now under Trump’s umbrella. We unite now to fight for his party, and we have to win this battle for the state of our country.”

That lukewarm endorsement of Hyde-Smith was enough to assure the senator and GOP leaders that McDaniel wasn’t going to try to undermine Hyde-Smith’s campaign.

But it is unclear if McDaniel has been working the phones and contacting supporters to rally to the polls for Hyde-Smith, despite several reported overtures from her campaign to help out in the final days.

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President Trump – who reluctantly endorsed Hyde-Smith over McDaniel and whom McDaniel said he “adores” – even reportedly contacted him over the weekend about the possibility of attending the president’s two rallies for Hyde-Smith on Monday.

McDaniel, who did not make an appearance at either of Trump’s rallies, did not respond to Fox News’ request for comment.

With little chance of many McDaniel supporters jumping over to vote for Espy, experts say they have to decide whether voting for Hyde-Smith or staying home is going to give them a lawmaker who will, at least partially, represent their interests.

“They have to answer the most basic question,” Duffy said. “Do they want a Republican in the Senate who they don’t agree with all the time, or a Democrat who they will never agree with?”

Trump congratulates Hyde-Smith on her ‘big win’ in Mississippi’s special election

President Trump late Tuesday congratulated incumbent Republican Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith for handily defeating an insurgent challenge by Democrat Mike Espy in Mississippi's contentious special election runoff to become the first woman ever elected to Congress from the state.

The GOP victory gives Republicans a net gain of two Senate seats in the midterm elections and a 53-47 advantage in the upper chamber, a margin that could prove critical in contentious confirmation battles to come.

Hyde-Smith, 59, is an ardent supporter of Trump who was appointed earlier this year by Mississippi's governor to fill retiring Sen. Thad Cochran's seat. She will finish out the remaining two years of Cochran's term in the deep-red state that went for Trump by nearly 20 percentage points in the 2016 presidential election.

"Congratulations to Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith on your big WIN in the great state of Mississippi. We are all very proud of you!” Trump tweeted.

With 95 percent of precincts reporting, Hyde-Smith had 446,927 votes to Espy's 374,880 – a commanding margin of 54.4 percent to 45.6 percent, according to state election officials. The race marks the final midterm contest of 2018.

“I want everybody to know, no matter who you voted for today, I’m gonna always represent every Mississippian,” Hyde-Smith said at her victory party late Monday night.  "Being on that MAGA-wagon, the Make American Great Again bus, we have bonded, we have persevered, we have gotten through things, we were successful today."

Hyde-Smith's win gives Republicans more leeway to ensure the confirmation of Trump's federal judicial and Cabinet nominees that require Senate approval and strengthens the party's chances of holding the majority in 2020.

"She has my prayers as she goes to Washington to unite a very divided Mississippi," Espy said in his concession speech.

“Cindy Hyde-Smith has been a strong conservative voice since joining the Senate, so it should come as no surprise that she was elected by Mississippians to represent them in Washington,” National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) Chairman Cory Gardner said in a statement. “Senator Hyde-Smith won tonight because she has a trusted record of fighting for Mississippi, and we are happy she will be returning to the United States Senate.”

On Nov. 6, Hyde-Smith prevailed in a four-way race that included firebrand Republican Sen. Chris McDaniel — but she was unable to secure more than 50 percent of the vote amid heavy turnout, owing to McDaniel's strong showing. The Nov. 6 election – which saw nearly half of registered voters in Mississippi cast ballots in the Senate race– triggered Tuesday's runoff.

GOP rallies behind Cindy Hyde-Smith in Mississippi runoff

Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith’s Republican Senate colleagues are standing up for her in her runoff race against Democrat Mike Espy; Peter Doocy reports from Jackson, Mississippi.

McDaniel sharply criticized Hyde-Smith throughout the campaign for being insufficiently supportive of the president's agenda, and some analysts suggested he may have dampened enthusiasm among conservatives for her candidacy.

“There has been a lot of work done to make sure that McDaniel’s supporters will turn out, but the hardest part about runoff elections is getting people to turn out,” Jennifer Duffy, the senior editor for the Cook Political Report, told Fox News. “If they don’t turn out, McDaniel will be seen as the spoiler because if it wasn’t for him, there would not have been a runoff in the first place.”

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McDaniel offered only a lukewarm endorsement for Hyde-Smith after his defeat earlier in the month, saying, "I don't believe she's the conservative for this state." He also told his supporters that "President Trump wants us to unite, and we will unite" to back her.

Susan Fino, left, holds a sign for U.S. Senate candidate Mike Espy and Logan Liddy holds one for Susan Liddy, a candidate for judge in the Chancery Court, District 18, Place 1 race at the Oxford Community Center in Oxford, Miss. on Tuesday, November 27, 2018. Mississippians are casting their ballots in runoff elections, including a U.S. Senate race pitting Republican Cindy Hyde-Smith against Democrat Mike Espy. (Bruce Newman/The Oxford Eagle via AP)

Espy “cannot be allowed to win this seat,” McDaniel said shortly after conceding the race, according to Mississippi Today. “President Trump wants us to unite, and we will unite. We will back Cindy Hyde-Smith.”

The 64-year-old Espy, who was vying to become Mississippi's first black senator since Reconstruction, had previously served in Congress and in former President Bill Clinton's administration.

Mississippi last elected a Democrat to the U.S. Senate in 1982, but Espy was trying for the same kind of longshot win that fellow Democrat Doug Jones had nearly a year ago in neighboring Alabama, another conservative Deep South state where Republicans hold most statewide offices.

Democrat Mike Espy, left feeds his ballot into the submission machine, as directed by poll manager Larry Greer, Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2018 in Ridgeland, Miss. Mississippi voters are deciding the last U.S. Senate race of the midterms, choosing between Espy and Republican Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

His campaign gained a second wind amid a flurry of damaging reports and missteps that inundated Hyde-Smith's campaign in recent days. Mississippi's past of racist violence became a dominant theme in the race after a video showed Hyde-Smith praising a supporter in early November by saying, "If he invited me to a public hanging, I'd be on the front row." She said it was "an exaggerated expression of regard."

As voters headed to the polls, nooses were found outside Mississippi State Capitol, along with signs explaining that they were placed there by protesters who wanted to raise awareness about the state's history of racially motivated lynchings. Some media figures inaccurately blamed Hyde-Smith supporters for placing the nooses.

"So many things are taken out of context," said Elizabeth Gallinghouse, 84, from Diamondhead, Mississippi. "The fact that she toured Jefferson Davis's house. You or I could have done the same thing. They said, 'Put this cap on. Hold this gun.' It was a fun time. She wasn't trying to send any messages."

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More than a week after the video's release, Hyde-Smith apologized at a televised debate to "anyone that was offended by my comments," but also said the remark was used as a "weapon" against her. Espy responded: "I don't know what's in your heart, but I know what came out of your mouth."

Some corporate donors, including Walmart and Major League Baseball, requested refunds on their campaign contributions to Hyde-Smith after the videos surfaced.

Hyde-Smith was seen in another video talking about making voting difficult for "liberal folks," and a photo circulated showing her wearing a replica Confederate military hat during a 2014 visit to Beauvoir, a beachside museum in Biloxi, Mississippi, that was the last home of Confederate president Jefferson Davis.

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Critics said Hyde-Smith's comments and Confederate regalia showed callous indifference in a state with a 38-percent black population, and some corporate donors, including Walmart, requested refunds on their campaign contributions to her.

However, Espy has had his own negative press in the run-up to the runoff. In particular, the Hyde-Smith campaign hammered Espy for his $750,000 lobbying contract in 2011 with the Cocoa and Coffee Board of the Ivory Coast. She noted that the country's ex-president, Laurent Gbagbo, is being tried in the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity.

Espy, who is an attorney, said: "I found out later that this guy, the president, was a really bad guy. I resigned the contract."

"She stood up to the Democrat smear machine."

— President Trump

Espy resigned as President Bill Clinton's agriculture secretary in 1994 amid a special-counsel investigation that accused him of improperly accepting gifts. He was tried and acquitted on 30 corruption charges, but the Mississippi Republican Party ran an ad this year that called Espy "too corrupt for the Clintons" and "too liberal for Mississippi."

Espy said he refused to accept offers of plea deals because, "I was so not guilty, I was innocent."

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The significance of the race was not lost on President Trump or top Republicans, who headlined two major rallies Monday night for Hyde-Smith in Mississippi to boost turnout.

"If you like [Supreme Court Justice Brett] Kavanuagh, there's more coming," South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham told the crowd in Tupelo, Miss. "Let's win tomorrow."

"She stood up to the Democrat smear machine," Trump said, referring to Hyde-Smith's support for Kavanaugh amid a series of uncorroborated and lurid sexual misconduct allegations.

He added: "Your vote on Tuesday will decide whether we build on our extraordinary achievements, or whether we empower the radical Democrats to obstruct our progress."

Hyde-Smith, who has made the Trump rallies a highlight of her runoff campaign, told the crowd in Tupelo: "I worked very, very hard for you. I have stood up for you and you know I will continue to stand up for the conservative values of Mississippi."

Fox News' Peter Doocy, Andrew O'Reilly and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Gregg Re is an editor for Fox News. Follow him on Twitter @gregg_re.

Mississippi Senate race pits Espy against Hyde-Smith: What to know about the runoff election

Republican Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith and Democratic former Rep. Mike Espy face off in a runoff election Tuesday – the final Senate race to be decided in the 2018 midterm elections.

The winner finishes the final two years of a term started by GOP Sen. Thad Cochran, who resigned in April due to health issues. It will determine whether Republicans can pad their slim majority.

Read on for a look at what to know about the candidates and the runoff election.

Who is running?

Democrat Mike Espy and Republican Cindy Hyde-Smith advanced to the runoff election after the Nov. 6 contest. (AP Photo)

Hyde-Smith and Espy advanced to the runoff after the Nov. 6 election.

Hyde-Smith was appointed to the seat earlier this year after GOP Sen. Thad Cochran retired due to health issues. The 59-year-old is the state’s first female senator.

Prior to her appointment, Hyde-Smith worked as Mississippi’s agriculture commissioner. She also served as a state senator until 2012, initially as a Democrat before switching parties in 2010.

Espy, 64, was the Agriculture secretary during the Clinton administration. Prior to that, Espy represented Mississippi in Congress. If elected, Espy would be Mississippi’s first black senator since the Reconstruction era.

Espy considers himself a “moderate” on many issues, including abortion, according to The Clarion-Ledger. While he told the newspaper he opposes abortion, he believes Roe v. Wade is settled “law of the land.”

President Trump has endorsed Hyde-Smith and plans to campaign with her ahead of the runoff election.

Why is there a runoff?

In Mississippi, candidates compete in a jungle primary – meaning, all candidates ran in the November election.

On Nov. 6, four candidates sought the Senate seat: Hyde-Smith, Espy, Republican Chris McDaniel and Democrat Tobey Bernard Bartee. Since no candidate gained more than 50 percent of the vote, Espy and Hyde-Smith headed for the Nov. 27 runoff.

Anything else to know?

Both Espy and Hyde-Smith have dealt with controversies throughout their campaigns.

Espy has faced some ethical questions for past work he’s done, including raking in $750,000 for lobbying work done on behalf of an African despot currently on trial for crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court. Espy appeared to have misled people about how much he made for the work and when exactly he terminated his contract with the Ivory Coast.

Additionally, Espy was criticized for working for a company that paid $2.5 million to settle a lawsuit concerning bribing of officials in a bid to score lucrative contracts with Mississippi’s state prison.

Espy left Clinton’s Cabinet after he was accused of improperly taking gifts and indicted on 30 felony charges. However, he was acquitted of any wrongdoing by a jury.

Hyde-Smith, meanwhile, has made a series of gaffes on the campaign trail this year.

She apologized after a video was released of her praising a local cattle rancher by saying, “If he invited me to a public hanging, I’d be on the front row.” The remark struck a nerve with many in Mississippi, given its history of lynchings.

Hyde-Smith again ignited controversy after she was seen in a photo wearing a replica hat of a Confederate soldier.

She has also been under intense scrutiny for having graduated from a white private school that was founded after court-ordered desegregation of public schools. According to the Jackson Free Press, schools such as Lawrence County Academy were created so “white parents could avoid having to send their children to schools with black students.”

Multiple companies and organizations – including the MLB, Walmart and Union Pacific – requested campaign donations be returned following the public hanging comment.

Fox News’ Lukas Mikelionis and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Kaitlyn Schallhorn is a Reporter for Fox News. Follow her on Twitter: @K_Schallhorn.

Mississippi runoff: All eyes on McDaniel voters as Hyde-Smith banks on their support

With voting underway in Mississippi’s Senate runoff race, the big question for the final election of the 2018 midterm season revolves around a candidate who is not even on the ballot anymore.

Chris McDaniel, a firebrand Republican state senator, sought to upset the state's GOP establishment when he ran for the U.S. Senate seat held by Cindy Hyde-Smith. The Republican incumbent – appointed in March to fill a vacancy – came out on top in the four-way Nov. 6 election, but McDaniel was able to earn enough votes that no candidate secured a 50 percent majority to win the race outright, forcing Tuesday's runoff.

Now, his supporters are a key factor as Hyde-Smith looks to lock down the seat in Tuesday's runoff against Democratic former Secretary of Agriculture Mike Espy.

Video

Thanks to a series of high profile flubs by Hyde-Smith and a huge push to boost turnout among Democrats, the race promises to be the most competitive Senate race the state has seen in decades. Unclear is whether McDaniel’s conservative supporters will show up to the polls on Tuesday or stay home. But if even a slice of the voters who went for McDaniel — 17 percent of the Nov. 6 vote — back Hyde-Smith on Tuesday, the incumbent might not have so tough a time.

“There has been a lot work done to make sure that McDaniel’s supporters will turn out, but the hardest part about runoff elections is getting people to turn out,” Jennifer Duffy, the senior editor for the Cook Political Report, told Fox News. “If they don’t turn out, McDaniel will be seen as the spoiler because if it wasn’t for him, there would not have been a runoff in the first place.”

McDaniel blasted Hyde-Smith during the primary campaign – accusing her of being a secret Democrat and not endorsing President Trump’s agenda. But the state lawmaker changed his tune following his defeat in early November.

Video

“Mr. Espy cannot be allowed to win this seat,” McDaniel said shortly after conceding the race, according to Mississippi Today. “President Trump wants us to unite, and we will unite. We will back Cindy Hyde-Smith.”

McDaniel added: “Now I don’t agree with her. I don’t believe she’s the conservative for this state. But I can tell you unequivocally that Mike Espy has no business being anywhere near the United States Senate. We unite now under Trump’s umbrella. We unite now to fight for his party, and we have to win this battle for the state of our country.”

That lukewarm endorsement of Hyde-Smith was enough to assure the senator and GOP leaders that McDaniel wasn’t going to try to undermine Hyde-Smith’s campaign.

But it is unclear if McDaniel has been working the phones and contacting supporters to rally to the polls for Hyde-Smith, despite several reported overtures from her campaign to help out in the final days.

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President Trump – who reluctantly endorsed Hyde-Smith over McDaniel and whom McDaniel said he “adores” – even reportedly contacted him over the weekend about the possibility of attending the president’s two rallies for Hyde-Smith on Monday.

McDaniel, who did not make an appearance at either of Trump’s rallies, did not respond to Fox News’ request for comment.

With little chance of many McDaniel supporters jumping over to vote for Espy, experts say they have to decide whether voting for Hyde-Smith or staying home is going to give them a lawmaker who will, at least partially, represent their interests.

“They have to answer the most basic question,” Duffy said. “Do they want a Republican in the Senate who they don’t agree with all the time, or a Democrat who they will never agree with?”

Who is Cindy Hyde-Smith? 5 things to know about Mississippi’s first female senator

With Sen. Thad Cochran’s impending retirement, Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant appointed Cindy Hyde-Smith to the seat. Now, she faces Democratic former Rep. Mike Espy in a runoff election to keep the job.

Cochran, a Republican, resigned earlier this year due to health issues. According to state election laws, it’s up to Bryant to appoint a replacement until a special election is held in November. He chose Hyde-Smith, the state's agriculture commissioner.

Read on for a look at Hyde-Smith and her career.

She is the state’s first female U.S. senator

Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant congratulates Cindy Hyde-Smith after announcing her appointment to the U.S. Senate. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Hyde-Smith, 59, is the first female to represent Mississippi in Congress.

Her appointment leaves Vermont as the last state not to have a woman in either the U.S. House of Representatives or Senate, according to data from Rutgers University’s Center for American Women and Politics.

Hyde-Smith is a former Democratic state lawmaker

Prior to her election as commissioner of the state’s agriculture and commerce agency, Hyde-Smith served as a state senator for 12 years, from 2000 to 2012.

In the state Senate, Hyde-Smith served as chair of the agriculture committee. Though she was a Democrat, Hyde-Smith would often vote with Republicans, the Clarion-Ledger reported. She switched to the Republican Party in 2010.

Hyde-Smith is a supporter of President Trump, who will campaign for her in Mississippi ahead of the Nov. 27 runoff election.

She’s been focused on the agriculture industry for a while

Hyde-Smith’s dedication to Mississippi’s agriculture industry started long before she became commissioner. As a state lawmaker, she “became known as a passionate advocate of farmers and ranchers” in the state, her commissioner biography said.

She championed efforts in the state Senate aimed at protecting the agriculture industry, including right-to-farm and property rights, according to her biography.

Hyde-Smith has also received numerous awards related to her work in the agriculture industry, according to her biography, including from the Mississippi Association of Conservation Districts and the Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation.

Hyde-Smith and her husband raise beef cattle

Cindy Hyde-Smith (right) stands with her husband, Mike Smith (left) and daughter Anna-Michael Smith (center) as the governor announces her appointment to the U.S. Senate. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Along with her husband, Hyde-Smith raises beef cattle on their farm in Brookhaven, Mississippi, about 60 miles south of Jackson. They are also partners in Lincoln County Livestock, which holds cattle auctions.

Hyde-Smith grew up as a tom-boy, riding horses and farming, she told the Delta Business Journal in 2015.

“I loved working with the soil,” Hyde-Smith said. “And it taught me a deep appreciation for the farmer and farming. You grow your food, feed your family and farmers grow the food to feed America. That garden and that concept all those years ago really began my journey into agriculture. Farmers really do feed America.”

Two things made Hyde-Smith fall in love with her husband, she told the Business Journal: he could saddle a horse and he tithed, the act of giving 10 percent to the church.

She has one daughter, Anna-Michael.

She’s had some missteps during the campaign

Appointed U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, R-Miss., answers a question during a televised Mississippi Senate debate with Democrat Mike Espy. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Hyde-Smith has made a series of gaffes on the campaign trail this year.

She apologized after a video was released of her praising a local cattle rancher by saying, “If he invited me to a public hanging, I’d be on the front row.” The remark struck a nerve with many in Mississippi, given its history of lynching.

Hyde-Smith again ignited controversy after she was seen in a photo wearing a replica hat of a Confederate soldier.

She has also been under intense scrutiny for having graduated from a white private school that was founded after court-ordered desegregation of public schools. According to the Jackson Free Press, schools such as Lawrence County Academy were created so “white parents could avoid having to send their children to schools with black students.”

Multiple companies and organizations – including the MLB, Walmart and Union Pacific – requested campaign donations be returned following the public hanging comment.

Kaitlyn Schallhorn is a Reporter for Fox News. Follow her on Twitter: @K_Schallhorn.

Google joins groups demanding refunds of contributions to Cindy Hyde-Smith campaign

Internet giant Google became the latest big-name corporation to request a return of donations to Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, R-Miss., hours ahead of Tuesday's runoff election.

A Google spokeswoman confirmed to Politico and other news outlets that the company was requesting a refund, but did not elaborate further. Records showed the company donated $5,000 to Hyde-Smith's campaign earlier this month.

Hyde-Smith has been heavily criticized for a remark she made on Nov. 2, four days before she secured her place in the runoff against Democrat Mike Espy. While attempting to praise a supporter, the one-time state legislator and agriculture commissioner said: "If he invited me to a public hanging, I'd be on the front row."

Mississippi has a history of racially motivated lynchings and violence against people who sought voting rights for black citizens. About 38 percent of the state's residents are black.

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Hyde-Smith has come under additional scrutiny in the intervening days after a photo showing her wearing a replica hat of a Confederate soldier made the rounds on social media, as did a video in which she mused about making it harder for "liberal folks" to vote.

TRUMP CHEERS BORDER SECURITY, NASA PROGRESS AT MISSISSIPPI RALLIES

On Monday, Major League Baseball asked that Hyde-Smith return its $5,000 donation. An MLB spokesperson told USA Today: "The contribution was made in connection with an event that MLB lobbyists were asked to attend. MLB has requested that the contribution be returned."

Last week, retail megastore chain Walmart asked for its $2,000 donation back from Hyde-Smith and tweeted out a statement that her "comments clearly do not reflect the values of our company and associates."

TUCKER: THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY'S 2 GOALS 'CONFLICT WITH EACH OTHER'

Railroad owner Union Pacific and medical device manufacturer Boston Scientific have asked for their contributions to be returned.

Fox News’ Andrew O’Reilly and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Trump, at Mississippi rallies ahead of pivotal Senate special election, touts border security and NASA

With just hours to go before a pivotal special election in Mississippi that will determine the strength of the GOP's Senate majority next year, President Trump on Monday evening touted NASA's Mars landing, vowed to redouble his border security efforts, and accused some caravan migrants of using children as human shields.

His comments came at a fiery rally in Tupelo, Miss. for incumbent GOP Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, who is facing off in Tuesday's special election runoff against Democrat Mike Espy, and at a roundtable shortly afterwards. Trump later held another rally in Biloxi hours later Monday evening, underscoring the importance of the race for Senate Republicans.

In keeping with the Christmas spirit, Trump entered the second rally through a wall that appeared to look like a chimney as fake snow rained down from above.

Voting for Hyde-Smith is "so important," Trump told the cheering crowd in Tupelo, as Republicans look to expand their Senate majority to 53 seats.

In between the Tupelo and Biloxi rallies, Trump attended a roundtable with Mississippi law enforcement leaders on his bipartisan criminal justice reform effort. There, he charged that some migrants — whom he identified as "grabbers" – rushed the San Ysidro, Calif., point of entry on Sunday, essentially using children as human shields at the border. In a statement late Monday, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen backed up Trump's comments.

TRUMP, DHS ACCUSE MIGRANTS OF USING CHILDREN AS HUMAN SHIELDS AT THE BORDER

Hyde-Smith was appointed in March to fill retired Republican Sen. Thad Cochran's seat, and is now seeking to finish out the last two years of his term. Espy, who served in former President Bill Clinton's administration, is seeking to become Mississippi's first black senator since Reconstruction.

"Your vote on Tuesday will decide whether we build on our extraordinary achievements, or whether we empower the radical Democrats to obstruct our progress," Trump said.

The president was joined on stage at one point by South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, who told him he has "done a hell of a job."

"We’re sending a clear message to the caravans, to the trespassers — go back home."

— President Trump

"If you like [Supreme Court Justice Brett] Kavanuagh, there's more coming," Graham, one of Kavanaugh's staunchest defenders during his Senate confirmation hearings earlier in the year, told the crowd. "Let's win tomorrow." (The Senate has exclusive authority to confirm all federal judicial appointments.)

The president briefly pivoted to discuss Sunday's confrontation at the border, when hundreds of caravan migrants rushed the port of entry at San Ysidro, Calif., and were dispersed with tear gas from U.S. Border Patrol authorities.

Controversy after border agents clash with caravan migrants

U.S. border agents fire tear gas into Mexico to stop group of migrants from breaching border; reaction and analysis on ‘The Five.’

"Are we doing OK on the border, folks?" Trump said to cheers of "Build that wall."

"We're not going to have it — you've got to come into our country legally," Trump said. "We have a lot of [the wall] built, and it's going up. And the rest of it — it's pretty nasty looking wire, isn't it? We're doing well."

He added: "We're not letting people into our country unless they come in legally — and we want people to come in through merit. We have great companies coming into our country. We need workers. We want them to come in. But they have to be talented people who can love our country — they have to come in through merit, not through a [visa] lottery."

Criticizing migrants who waved their home country's flags and threw rocks at U.S. officials — even as they sought entry into the U.S. — Trump unequivocally condemned Sunday's attempted incursion at San Ysidro.

"We will not tolerate any form of assault or attack upon our border agents, like happened yesterday," Trump said. "We're sending a clear message to the caravans, to the trespassers — go back home."

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He then touted historically low African-American unemployment rates and told the crowd that "we made history" on Election Day "by expanding our Senate majority."

For her part, Hyde-Smith said she was "honored" by Trump's visit and emphasized her support for the Second Amendment and the president's judicial nominees.

"I've worked very, very hard for you," Hyde-Smith told the crowd. "I will stand for your conservative values, and that is what is on the ballot tomorrow."

"We have reawakened NASA. And that’s a good thing."

— President Trump

WATCH: HUNDREDS OF MIGRANTS RUSH PORT OF ENTRY AT SAN YSIDRO, MET WITH TEAR GAS

After discussing his plans for a Space Force, Trump highlighted the historic landing of a NASA spacecraft on Mars earlier in the day.

"Today, we just landed on Mars, did you hear that?" Trump said. "They were celebrating at NASA. We have reawakened NASA. And that's a good thing." He added: "A lot of the rich guys like rockets. So we charge them rent. Just make sure you have an American flag on the rocket."

InSight mission to probe interior of Mars

The robotic explorer aims to study in-depth the crust, mantle and core of Mars; insight from former NASA astronaut Tom Jones.

He then immediately turned to the Iran nuclear deal, which he called "one-sided" and pulled the U.S. out of earlier this year, and touted his decision to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem.

Large crowds gathered hours in advance of the rally at Tupelo Regional Airport, where GOP Rep. Trent Kelly led supporters in a chant of "Build the wall" as Air Force One approached for landing.

The president carried Mississippi over Hillary Clinton by nearly 20 percentage points in the 2016 presidential election, and GOP Sen. Roger Wicker won re-election by a similar margin earlier in the month.

Hyde-Smith also remains popular among black Mississippi Republicans, according to local reports.

But Trump cautioned voters not to make assumptions or stay home. "Don't take any chances," he warned the crowd in Tupelo Monday evening.

And Democrats have seen some cause for optimism in recent weeks, fueled by a series of missteps by Hyde-Smith.

MLB REQUESTS MONEY BACK FROM HYDE-SMITH AMID FALLOUT FROM 'HANGING' REMARKS

The incumbent Republican lawmaker was recorded during a campaign stop saying that if a supporter invited her to a "public hanging," she would be in "the front row.” She has since said her comment was made in jest and denied any racial connotation.

Speaking to reporters outside the White House earlier Monday before flying to Mississippi, Trump said Hyde-Smith "felt very badly, and she certainly didn't mean that, and she's already apologized and I think very strongly."

He said her comments were "taken a certain way, but she certainly didn't mean it."

Trump says he’s not happy with GM, comments on caravan

President Trump speaks to reports outside the White House as he departs for a campaign rally for Republican Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith.

"I've known her for a period of time now as a senator — she's been an excellent senator," Trump said. "I'm going there — I'm going to make, I guess, two rallies on top of everything else. And I hope you're all coming."

Amid fallout from those remarks, Major League Baseball asked that Hyde-Smith return the organization’s $5,000 donation. Other organizations have made similar requests.

Hyde-Smith also co-sponsored a bill in the Mississippi state Senate in 2007 that would have honored a former Confederate soldier for his efforts to "defend his homeland."

The resolution, which was first reported over the weekend, called a Mississippi resident identified as Effie Lucille Nicholson Pharr "the last known living 'Real Daughter' of the Confederacy living in Mississippi" and praised her father's work to "defend his homeland."

Meanwhile, Hyde-Smith's campaign sharply pushed back against a report in the Jackson Free Press over the weekend that she had attended what was described as a "segregation academy" in the 1970s to avoid studying with black students, calling it a "new low."

Gregg Re is an editor for Fox News. Follow him on Twitter @gregg_re.