GOP senator defends Hyde-Smith: 'Nothing at all racial' about 'public hanging' remarks

GOP senator defends Hyde-Smith: 'Nothing at all racial' about 'public hanging' remarks
© Greg Nash

Sen. Roger WickerRoger Frederick WickerWe can accelerate a cure for Alzheimer's Senate panel opens investigation of FAA safety inspectors FAA faces questions about Boeing at two hearings MORE on Wednesday defended fellow Republican Mississippi Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith over her controversial "public hanging" remark, claiming there was "nothing at all racial" about the viral comment.

"There’s been a lot of mock outrage about this statement that she made," Wicker, who has served in the Senate since 2007, said on Fox News. "There was nothing at all racial about it."

Still, he said, "I could see how the statement was misconstrued and elevated to a level of hysteria that I really didn’t expect."

ADVERTISEMENT

Wicker's comments came a day after Hyde-Smith defeated Democrat Mike Espy in the Mississippi Senate runoff election, a campaign that was roiled by allegations of racism that the GOP incumbent rejected.

For the final weeks of the campaign, Hyde-Smith faced heavy criticism from Democrats and civil rights activists who slammed her for saying she would "be on the front row" if a supporter invited her to a "public hanging."

Mississippi historically had the highest number of lynchings of African-Americans of any state between 1882 and 1968 with 581, according to the NAACP

Hyde-Smith's campaign largely declined to comment publicly on the brewing controversy as it unfolded. She eventually apologized, saying only that her words had been twisted and she was joking with a supporter when she said it. 

Wicker said Wednesday he believes Republicans made the mistake of "underestimating the degree to which it might be misconstrued as having something to do with our violent history."

Hyde-Smith was appointed to fill the remainder of Sen. Thad CochranWilliam (Thad) Thad CochranTop 5 races to watch in 2019 Bottom Line Races Dems narrowly lost show party needs to return to Howard Dean’s 50 state strategy MORE's (R-Miss.) term, which extends until 2020. Cochran retired in April amid health concerns.

She received a last-minute boost in her runoff campaign from President TrumpDonald John TrumpRussia's election interference is a problem for the GOP Pence to pitch trade deal during trip to Michigan: report Iran oil minister: US made 'bad mistake' in ending sanctions waivers MORE, who tweeted his support throughout Tuesday and held two campaign rallies for her on the eve of the election.

Hyde-Smith's win boosts the Republican Senate majority to 53-47 in the chamber starting in January.