President Trump is headed for Mississippi on Monday to rally support for GOP U.S. Senate candidate Cindy Hyde-Smith ahead of Tuesday’s runoff election against Democratic opponent Mike Espy.
Neither candidate secured the requisite 50 percent of votes during their Nov. 6 election.
Hyde-Smith may well need the president’s support. She has been facing intense scrutiny recently over having attended a white private school that was founded after court-ordered school desegregation of public schools.
Hyde-Smith also ignited controversy after she was seen in a photo wearing a replica hat of a Confederate soldier and in a video praising a supporter by saying: “If he invited me to a public hanging, I’d be on the front row.”
Hyde-Smith has apologized for the remark but Espy, an African-American and former congressman, has used the comment as fodder during his campaign.
“Here’s what you’re not going to get from me: You’re not going to hear any talk about voter suppression. You’re not going to hear any talk about public hanging,” Espy said.
But Espy is facing some ethical questions as well. The Democrat worked for a company that paid $2.5 million to settle a lawsuit concerning the bribing of officials in a bid to score lucrative contracts with the state prison.
In addition, the former lobbyist and U.S. agriculture secretary under President Bill Clinton collected $750,000 after lobbying on behalf of an African despot currently on trial for crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court.
Trump will make at least two stops on Monday: In the afternoon in Tupelo – the birthplace of Elvis Presley – and in the evening in Biloxi, at a larger rally at the Coast Coliseum at 8 p.m, the Clarion Ledger reported.
Tuesday’s runoff election will conclude the 2018 midterms. The winner will finish the final two years of a term started by GOP Sen. Thad Cochran, who resigned in April for health reasons.
Hyde-Smith has established herself as an inveterate supporter of the president. Trump has previously thanked Hyde-Smith for voting for “our Agenda in the Senate 100% of the time.”
The runoff between Hyde-Smith and Espy has drawn comparisons to last year’s special election in which Democrat Doug Jones defeated the scandal-plagued Republican Roy Moore to fill Jeff Sessions’ vacated seat.
Hyde-Smith’s remarks have prompted several organizations — including Major League Baseball and Walmart — to withdraw their financial support. Still, strategists believe Hyde-Smith is poised to win given Mississippi’s historically conservative leanings: It has not elected a Democrat to the U.S. Senate since 1982 and Trump received 58 percent of the state’s vote during the 2016 presidential election.
According to a poll conducted last week by RRH Elections, Hyde-Smith was leading Espy by 10 points.
Monday’s Biloxi rally is anticipated to draw hundreds of protesters, the Hill reported. The Mississippi Rising Coalition, a self-described “human & civil rights groups” has created an event dubbed the “Battle of Biloxi Protest,” which will reportedly be held Monday near the rally venue. As of Sunday evening, the event had 318 “interested” participants and 106 “going,” according to its page.
Fox News’ Andrew O’Reilly and The Associated Press contributed to this report.