What to Know About Mississippi’s Runoff Senate Election

November 20, 2018, 3:34 PM UTC

The 2018 midterms are two weeks behind us, but one state hasn’t finished voting yet.

Mississippians head to the polls next Tuesday to vote in a runoff election between incumbent GOP Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith and Democrat Mike Espy. The one and only debate of the runoff will take place tonight, Tuesday.

While many Republicans had hoped it would be an easy path to victory for Hyde-Smith, the race has quickly devolved into a racially driven conflict between the two candidates. Hyde-Smith first provoked criticism after making a reference to a “public hanging,” which many, including opponent Espy, who is African-American, took to be an ill-timed joke about lynching. Just weeks later, she reportedly jokingly told a group of students that it would be a “great idea” to make it harder for liberals to vote.

Mississippi hasn’t elected a Democrat to the Senate since 1982, but in a state with a deep history of racist violence, Hyde-Smith’s comments could be just the thing needed to nudge votes away from the Republican candidate. And although the odds are stacked against Espy—estimates suggest he would need at least a quarter of the white vote and high African-American turnout—Republicans are taking the candidate seriously. President Donald Trump plans to host get-out-the-vote rallies in the state ahead of the election, and multiple Republican groups have spent in excess of $1 million to support Hyde-Smith’s candidacy.

Hyde-Smith was appointed to the Senate earlier this year following Sen. Thad Cochran’s departure. A special election was held on Nov. 6 to elect someone to serve the remaining two years of Cochran’s term, but Hyde-Smith and her opponents failed to receive the majority needed to win. She and Espy, who both received about 41% of the vote, will face off on Nov. 27 in the runoff election.