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Republican Cindy Hyde-Smith wins Mississippi Senate election

The Republican senator beat Democrat Mike Espy in 2018’s final Senate matchup.

Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith stands on stage with President Donald Trump at a rally in Southaven, Mississippi.
Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images
Dylan Scott covers health care for Vox. He has reported on health policy for more than 10 years, writing for Governing magazine, Talking Points Memo and STAT before joining Vox in 2017.

Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS) defeated Democrat Mike Espy in Tuesday’s Mississippi special Senate election. She will finish retired Sen. Thad Cochran’s current term through 2020, after being appointed to replace him earlier this year.

Hyde-Smith is the first woman to be elected to represent Mississippi in the Senate. It was an unimpressive win for the Republican — with the vote count nearly finished, she led Espy by 8 points, after Donald Trump won Mississippi by 18 in 2016 — but a win nonetheless.

She survived a flood of negative stories through the final weeks of the campaign, in which Hyde-Smith joked about public hangings in a state plagued by lynchings last century and her attendance of a white segregationist school in her youth was revealed.

Her win secures Senate Republicans a 53-seat majority for the next two years. If history is any guide, the next two years could see extreme gridlock on Capitol Hill, with even routine spending bills becoming a vicious fight between the two chambers. Senate Republicans, by holding on to the majority, will focus on what they’ve been doing for the past few months: confirming as many federal judges as possible.

Hyde-Smith didn’t make it easy on herself, even in a deep-red state that’s still fond of President Donald Trump. She attempted to return the praise of a cattle rancher by saying she’d love to attend a public hanging with him. She joked about voter suppression while campaigning to represent a state that pioneered Jim Crow laws.

The Jackson Free Press revealed Hyde-Smith graduated from a “seg academy”: an all-white school that was set up to circumvent federal desegregation mandates. She also sent her daughter to such a school. A photo also surfaced of Hyde-Smith wearing a Confederate hat and holding a rifle back in 2014 at the Jefferson Davis Home and Presidential Library.

She will return to the Senate for another two years as a reliable Republican vote. Hyde-Smith has voted with Trump 100 percent of the time, according to FiveThirtyEight’s tracker, and she has said she strongly supports the president’s border wall, the Republican tax bill, the works. “I’m pretty firm, firm, firm on the wall,” the senator said. She is also an absolutist on gun rights and abortion.

In one sense, there wasn’t much at stake in Tuesday’s election. Republicans already had their majority. Now they’ll have an extra vote’s worth of wiggle room if they need to push through judicial nominees — or a Supreme Court justice — on a party-line vote.

The real news was that the race was competitive at all, given how reliably Republican Mississippi has been. Espy had a respectable showing, but it wasn’t enough. Mississippi is still a GOP state, and Hyde-Smith is heading back to the Senate.