GOP US Sen. Hyde-Smith wins divisive runoff, keeps her seat

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Republican U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith won a divisive Mississippi runoff Tuesday, surviving a video-recorded remark decried as racist and defeating a former federal official who hoped to become the state's first African-American senator since Reconstruction.

The runoff was rocked by the video, in which Hyde-Smith said of a supporter, "If he invited me to a public hanging, I'd be on the front row." A separate video showed her talking about "liberal folks" and making it "just a little more difficult" for them to vote.

The comments by Hyde-Smith, who is white, made Mississippi's history of racist lynchings a theme of the runoff and spurred many black voters to return to the polls Tuesday.

In the aftermath of the video, Republicans worried they could face a repeat of last year's special election in Alabama, in which a flawed Republican candidate handed Democrats a reliable GOP Senate seat in the Deep South. The GOP pumped resources into Mississippi, and President Donald Trump made a strong effort on behalf of Hyde-Smith, holding last-minute rallies in Mississippi on Monday.

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Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith (L) stands on stage with US President Donald Trump at a 'Make America Great Again' rally at Landers Center in Southaven, Mississippi, on October 2, 2018. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN / AFP) (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JUNE 14: Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, R-Miss., leaves the Capitol after a vote on Thursday, June 14, 2018. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
President Donald Trump and Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, R-Miss., hug during a rally in Tupelo, Miss., Monday, Nov. 26, 2018. (AP Photo/Thomas Graning)
WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 25: Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS) greets Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh, in her office on Capitol Hill, on July 25, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Al Drago/Getty Images)
President Donald Trump points as the walks with Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, R-Miss., at Tupelo Regional Airport, Monday, Nov. 26, 2018, in Tupelo, Miss. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 16: EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, acknowledges Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MI) after arriving at a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on Capitol Hill, May 16, 2018 in Washington, DC. The Subcommittee is hearing testimony on the proposed budget estimates for FY2019 for the Environmental Protection Agency. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, R-Miss., speaks at a rally with President Donald Trump at Tupelo Regional Airport, Monday, Nov. 26, 2018, in Tupelo, Miss. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Incumbent Republican Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith greets supporters at a Make America Great Again rally at the airport in Tupelo, Mississippi on November 26, 2018 (Photo by Jim WATSON / AFP) (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith peaks out from behind a curtain before a rally with US President Donald Trump at Landers Center Ð Arena in Southaven, Mississippi, on October 2, 2018. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN / AFP) (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JUNE 26: Sens. Cindy Hyde-Smith, R-Miss., and Roger Wicker, R-Miss., talk before the Senate Policy luncheons in the Capitol on June 26, 2018. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
UNITED STATES - MAY 8: Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, R-Miss., arrives in the Capitol on Tuesday, May 8, 2018. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
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The contest caps a campaign season that exposed persistent racial divisions in America — and the willingness of some political candidates to exploit them to win elections. With Hyde-Smith's victory, Republicans control 53 of the Senate's 100 seats. The GOP lost control of the House, where Democrats will assume the majority in January.

In the final weeks of the runoff, Hyde-Smith's campaign said the remark about making voting difficult was a joke. She said the "public hanging" comment was "an exaggerated expression of regard" for a fellow cattle rancher. During a televised debate nine days after the video was publicized, she apologized to "anyone that was offended by my comments," but also said the remark was used as a "weapon" against her.

Democratic opponent Mike Espy, 64, a former U.S. agriculture secretary, replied: "I don't know what's in your heart, but I know what came out of your mouth."

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

Hyde-Smith was in her second term as Mississippi agriculture commissioner when Republican Gov. Phil Bryant appointed her to temporarily succeed GOP Sen. Thad Cochran. The longtime lawmaker retired in April amid health concerns.

The win makes Hyde-Smith, 59, the first woman elected to Congress from Mississippi.

Hyde-Smith and Espy emerged from a field of four candidates Nov. 6 to advance to Tuesday's runoff. Her win allows her to complete the final two years of Cochran's six-year term.

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Associated Press writers Jeff Amy and Janet McConnaughey contributed to this report.

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For AP's complete coverage of the U.S. midterm elections: http://apne.ws/APPolitics . Follow Emily Wagster Pettus on Twitter: http://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus .

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