Leading Up To The Mississippi Runoff, Democrats Make It All About Racial Identity

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Molly Prince Politics Reporter
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  • Democrats and left-wing organizations are using racial politics as their primary tactic to flip Mississippi into a blue state during the runoff election.
  • Republican Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith fueled racial tensions after making a comment in jest regarding a public hanging.
  • Progressive activists are taking advantage of the out-of-context remarks by promulgating a racial narrative as they hope to increase black voter turnout.

As the Mississippi runoff election nears, Democrats and left-wing groups reportedly see their best path to victory in the deep red state as a racial division against incumbent Republican Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith.

While Democratic challenger Mike Espy has been relatively silent on the issue, surrogates and political action committees (PACs) have been pouring time and money into the election, with racism being the primary issue, according to Politico.

Progressive activist groups such as Black Voters Matter and the Senate Majority PAC, a senate-focused Democratic super PAC, have been active in the race, with the latter contributing $500,000 into the election.

Hyde-Smith fueled the fire in early November after she said in jest that she would “be on the front row” if a man she was campaigning with invited her to a public hanging. The comment, although taken out of context, was seized upon. The San Francisco-based PowerPACPlus released a racially charged political ad showing two black men hanging from a tree as white bystanders watched. The Mississippi senator was photoshopped into the image with text saying, “This is where Republican Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith would like to be.”

Hyde-Smith repeatedly denied the racial accusation.

“In a comment on Nov. 2, I referred to accepting an invitation to a speaking engagement,” the Mississippi senator said in a statement. “In referencing the one who invited me, I used an exaggerated expression of regard, and any attempt to turn this into a negative connotation is ridiculous.”

Regardless, Espy supporters view the comment as a political opening, giving Democrats a path to flip the state blue, according to The New York Times.

Ricky Cole, a former chairman of the state’s Democratic Party, asserted that the comment “caused a lot of indignation among African-Americans” as well as “among the progressive white community in Mississippi, which is a small but growing group.”

Espy himself even said his challenger’s remarks “are hurtful to all of those in Mississippi, white or black.”

“This is 2018,” Espy said. “Mississippi is going into the third decade of the 21st century, and we’ve got to have a senator that will unite everybody, such as myself, not divide.”

Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS) arrives for a hearing of the Senate Appropriations Committee's Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Subcommittee with U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill May 10, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith arrives for a hearing of the Senate Appropriations Committee’s Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Subcommittee with U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill May 10, 2018 in Washington, D.C. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Notable black senators have also gone down to the Bible belt to campaign for Espy including Democratic Sens. Kamala Harris of California and Cory Booker of New Jersey. (RELATED: Mississippi Senate Candidate Mike Espy Trailed By Ethical Questions)

While Harris was stumping for Espy, she brought up race, saying that “racism, anti-semitism, homophobia, these issues are real in this country” and urged voters to “speak these truths so we can deal with that.”

Cliff Albright, the co-founder of Black Voters Matter, said that the goal is that “contrary to popular belief, instead of turnout going down in this runoff, that black turnout will actually go up.” Accordingly, Democrats are estimating that in addition to high black turnout, more than 25 percent of white voters need to flip in his direction, reported Politico.

The race will be historic for Mississippi either way — a Democratic win means that Espy would be the state’s first black senator since the Reconstruction era after the Civil War. Conversely, Hyde-Smith would be the state’s first female elected to the U.S. Senate; Hyde-Smith was appointed to the seat in 2018 after former GOP Sen. Thad Cochran resigned.

Neither Hyde-Smith’s or Espy’s campaign replied to The Daily Caller News Foundation’s request to comment in time for publication.

The runoff election is scheduled for Nov. 27.

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