Hyde-Smith predicts runoff in Mississippi Senate race

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JACKSON, Miss. — A Republican appointed to the U.S. Senate in Mississippi is asking people to vote for her twice: Once in Tuesday’s election and once in a runoff.

“There may be a runoff. There’s a good chance it will be,” Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith told about 100 supporters Monday at the state agriculture museum in Jackson.

Republican Gov. Phil Bryant appointed Hyde-Smith to temporarily succeed Sen. Thad Cochran, who retired in April. She is endorsed by President Donald Trump and said she will continue supporting him.

“My first speech on the Senate floor was to stand up for Justice Brett Kavanaugh. Guys, we did the right thing,” Hyde-Smith said, to applause.

Hyde-Smith is challenged in a special election by Republican state Sen. Chris McDaniel, Democratic former U.S. Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy and Democrat Tobey Bernard Bartee, who is a former military intelligence officer making his first run for public office.

Party labels won’t appear on Tuesday’s special election ballot. If nobody wins a majority, the top two will go to a Nov. 27 runoff. The winner gets the final two years of the six-year term Cochran started.

Espy says as senator, he would unify Mississippi. He is seeking to become the first African-American to represent Mississippi in the U.S. Senate since Reconstruction. His campaign held a gospel event Monday evening at a large predominantly black church in north Jackson, and he was endorsed Monday by Myrlie Evers-Williams, widow of Medgar Evers, a Mississippi NAACP leader who was assassinated outside the family’s Jackson home in 1963.

Espy told more than 200 people at Anderson United Methodist Church that he will work to keep a federal health care law that protects coverage for people with pre-existing conditions. He also said he will work to help farmers who have been hurt by Trump administration tariffs and students who are struggling with debt from college loans.

“If you invest in me, I’m going to invest in you,” Espy said.

With backing from tea party voters, McDaniel nearly toppled Cochran in a divisive 2014 Republican primary. McDaniel told about 40 supporters at a campaign event Monday in the Jackson suburb of Flowood that Hyde-Smith is not a real Republican.

“She is failing us already as a conservative,” McDaniel said. “She’s not a bad person. She’s a Democrat.”

Hyde-Smith served 11 years as a Democrat in the Mississippi Senate before switching parties in 2010 and winning statewide races for agriculture commissioner as a Republican in 2011 and 2015.

The governor, campaigning with Hyde-Smith on Monday, said it is “intellectually dishonest” to say she is still a Democrat.