Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS) is doing her best to turn a Senate campaign in a state that President Donald Trump captured by nearly 20 percentage points in 2016 into a close race — and Tuesday’s debate was no exception.
Hyde-Smith, who was appointed to the Senate in April after Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS) stepped down over health concerns, made headlines earlier this month when she joked about lynching at a campaign event.
Mississippi was the U.S. state with the most lynchings of Black people between 1877 and 1950 — and Hyde-Smith’s Democratic opponent, Mike Espy, is aiming to become Mississippi’s first Black senator since the Reconstruction era.
At least five businesses, including Walmart and AT&T, have asked Hyde-Smith to return campaign donations in the wake of her comments.
Things didn’t improve from there. Hyde-Smith was subequently caught on video advocating for voter suppression, saying, “Maybe we want to make it just a little more difficult” for Democrats “that maybe we don’t want to vote.” Then, a 2014 Facebook post from Hyde-Smith’s account resurfaced, in which she is pictured standing next to a member of a a Southern Poverty Law Center-designated hate group wearing a Confederate soldier’s hat with the caption “Mississippi history at its best!”
All of this is starting to make the GOP very nervous about a potential repeat of last year’s Alabama Senate special election, in which now-Sen. Doug Jones (D) defeated accused child molester Roy Moore (R) in a state that Trump won by nearly 30 points in 2016.
“The race is definitely tighter than what it should be,” a “top Mississippi Republican” told Talking Points Memo. “Her performance has lately not been great.”
It’s unlikely that Republicans are feeling any better about Hyde-Smith after her performance in Tuesday’s debate with Espy.
Over the span of an hour, the GOP senator cited an imaginary Republican colleague, asked for voters’ support on the wrong date, and offered a cringeworthy non-apology for her racist remarks about lynching.
In what was likely a reference to Sen. Thom Tillis (R), who represents North Carolina, Hyde-Smith touted her work with South Carolina’s non-existent Sen. Tom Thompson (R).
Mississippi’s runoff election will occur on Tuesday, November 27. But someone might want to make Hyde-Smith aware of this, as after mentioning the endorsements of Trump and Bryant in her closing statement, she asked for the support of voters on “November the 22nd.”
Eighteen days after her racist remarks, Hyde-Smith meekly apologized to “anyone that was offended by my comments” before claiming that her comments were “twisted” and “turned into a weapon to be used against me.”
The Republican senator also bragged about “documenting every campaign contribution” that her campaign receives, even though she is merely following the law for political donations.
The Jackson Free Press’ Ashton Pittman noted Hyde-Smith frequently needed to look at her notes while speaking.
WATCH: I counted 20 times Cindy Hyde-Smith looked down at the two large stacks of notes in front of her during just the first two questions. Candidates weren't supposed to bring notes in with them, but her campaign demanded & was given access to notes over an hour prior. #MSSen pic.twitter.com/IKDOJYJxWC
— Ashton Pittman (@ashtonpittman) November 21, 2018
After the debate, the Mississippi Republican skipped taking any questions from the media, sending Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS) in her place.
— Sarah McCammon (@sarahmccammon) November 21, 2018
Hyde-Smith reportedly demanded that no press or audience be allowed at the debate.