President TrumpDonald TrumpKinzinger says Trump 'winning' because so many Republicans 'have remained silent' Our remote warfare counterterrorism strategy is more risk than reward Far-right rally draws small crowd, large police presence at Capitol MORE on Monday night heaped praise on embattled Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R) on the eve of Mississippi’s nationally watched runoff election, while attacking her Democratic rival as "far-left."
In his first rally of the night, Trump urged voters to not get complacent and to vote for Hyde-Smith in order to boost Republicans' Senate majority. He highlighted Hyde-Smith's unwavering support for his agenda, particularly her vote for Supreme Court Justice Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughRepublicans keep distance from 'Justice for J6' rally Senators denounce protest staged outside home of Justice Kavanaugh Why isn't Harris leading the charge against the Texas abortion law? MORE.
Trump headlined two rallies on behalf of Hyde-Smith ahead of Tuesday's runoff to fill the remaining two years of retired Sen. Thad CochranWilliam (Thad) Thad CochranBottom line Bottom line Alabama zeroes in on Richard Shelby's future MORE’s (R) term in a race that’s become unexpectedly competitive in deep-red Mississippi.
Hyde-Smith will square off against former Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy (D), who's vying to become the first black senator in the state since Reconstruction.
“I think it’ll be a very big day for Cindy, but don’t take any chances,” Trump said in Tupelo, Miss., on Monday night. “That’s happened many times before. That never works out well, just assume you have to vote.”
"Cindy is so important, so respected. ... If we win tomorrow, we’ll be at 53-47 seats, which is substantially more than we had."
With growing fears over holding the seat, national Republicans have heavily invested in the race with millions of dollars in advertising. Trump, in addition to Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by National Industries for the Blind - Tight security for Capitol rally; Biden agenda slows Trump offers sympathy for those charged with Jan. 6 offenses Lindsey Graham: Police need 'to take a firm line' with Sept. 18 rally attendees MORE (R-S.C.), came to stump with Hyde-Smith to drive turnout in a runoff just days after Thanksgiving.
Hyde-Smith has become embroiled in controversy that was sparked by a joke that she’d be “on the front row” if a supporter invited her to a “public hanging.” She has since apologized for the comment, while Espy has denounced it as "harmful" and "hurtful."
It’s brought race to the forefront of the campaign in a state with a history of lynchings and a significant African-American population.
Speaking in Biloxi on Monday night, Trump made several appeals to African-American voters, at one point repeating a line he used on the campaign trail in 2016: “What the hell do you have to lose” by supporting Republicans?
“African-American unemployment has reached the lowest rate ever recorded,” Trump said. “African-American poverty is at an all-time low. Remember what I used to say: What the hell do you have to lose?”
Hyde-Smith has also come under fire for joking about making it more difficult for liberal students to vote as well as over a 2014 photo that resurfaced of her wearing a Confederate hat in a museum.
She’s still favored to prevail on Tuesday, but Democrats have become energized amid an increasingly tightening race.
While showering Hyde-Smith with praise, Trump argued that Espy will vote in "lockstep" with Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerBiden discusses agenda with Schumer, Pelosi ahead of pivotal week CEOs urge Congress to raise debt limit or risk 'avoidable crisis' If .5 trillion 'infrastructure' bill fails, it's bye-bye for an increasingly unpopular Biden MORE (D-N.Y.), calling Democrats the "party of caravans and crime."
“Mike Espy would rather protect illegal aliens than people who live in Mississippi and Mississippi workers,” Trump said.
Hours after his comments in Tupelo, in Biloxi, Trump tore into Espy once again, saying that a vote for the Democrat would be a vote for House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiRepublicans caught in California's recall trap Raise the debt limit while starting to fix the budget 'Justice for J6' organizer calls on demonstrators to respect law enforcement MORE and Rep. Maxine WatersMaxine Moore WatersAdvocates call on top Democrats for 0B in housing investments Cori Bush hits her stride by drawing on activist past Cawthorn to introduce resolution condemning political violence after warning of 'bloodshed' if elections are 'rigged' MORE (D-Calif.), who has emerged as a vocal Democratic critic of the president.
“He has not had a great career folks. Check it out,” Trump said. “A vote for Espy is a vote for the Democrat agenda of socialism and open-borders. Espy supported one of the largest tax increases in American history.”
After initial reservations, Trump endorsed Hyde-Smith prior to the Nov. 6 race and held a rally in Southaven, Miss. Neither Hyde-Smith nor Espy won over 50 percent of the vote, which is necessary to avoid a runoff.
Hyde-Smith briefly joined Trump on stage on Monday to thank him for his endorsement and tout her support for “pro-life issues,” defending military and law enforcement and lower taxes.
“I think I’ve given you one big reason to ask for your vote — I’ve stood up for you and you know I’ll continue to stand up for the conservative values of Mississippi,” she said.
Graham, who’s up for reelection in 2020 in deep-red South Carolina, also joined Trump to bolster Hyde-Smith and highlight her vote for Kavanaugh, who’s denied allegations of sexual assault from high school. Graham, a member of the Judiciary Committee, drew headlines for his fierce rhetoric defending Kavanaugh during his testimony.
“When Kavanaugh needed your senator, she was there,” Graham said. “I want you to show up Tuesday. … If you like Kavanaugh, there’s more coming.”
Senate Republican leadership have touted their larger majority as key to pushing through more judicial nominations in the next Congress.
At Monday’s rally, Trump took a victory lap about holding onto the Senate majority, accusing the media of only focusing on Democrats’ takeover in the House. Trump won Mississippi by nearly 18 points in 2016 and remains popular in the state.
For their part, Democrats have grown more optimistic in a state that hasn’t elected a Democrat to the Senate since 1982.
Espy has had his own star power on the campaign trail thanks to visits from Sens. Cory BookerCory BookerDOJ announces agencywide limits on chokeholds and no-knock entries Fighting poverty, the Biden way Top Senate Democrats urge Biden to take immediate action on home confinement program MORE (D-N.J.) and Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisRepublicans caught in California's recall trap Harris facilitates coin toss at Howard University football game Far-right rally draws small crowd, large police presence at Capitol MORE (D-Calif.), two black senators who are seen as potential 2020 presidential hopefuls.
Espy has also faced his own hurdles, with GOP attacks over a past lobbying contract with a West African despot and previous bribery allegations, though he’s been acquitted of all charges.
The Democrat has been out of office for more than two decades, after serving in Congress from 1987 to 1993, then becoming former President Clinton’s Agriculture secretary.
But Democrats remain cautiously hopeful about pulling off another upset in the Deep South, after Sen. Doug Jones (D) won Alabama’s special Senate election late last year.
-Updated 10:26 p.m.