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Mississippi goes to 1 Senate runoff, Wicker wins other race

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — A Republican appointed to the U.S. Senate in Mississippi and one of her Democratic challengers will compete in a Nov. 27 runoff. Mississippi voters will either elect a woman to the Senate for the first time ever or will send a black man to the Senate for the first time since Reconstruction.

Republican Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith and Democrat Mike Espy advanced Tuesday from a field of four candidates. The third-place finisher, Republican Chris McDaniel, is calling on the GOP to unite behind Hyde-Smith, who is endorsed by President Donald Trump.

Mississippi’s other Republican U.S. senator, Roger Wicker, won another six-year term Tuesday. He defeated Democrat David Baria and two candidates who ran inexpensive campaigns.

Hyde-Smith and Espy are competing to serve the final two years of a term started by Republican Thad Cochran, who retired in April. Republican Gov. Phil Bryant appointed Hyde-Smith, who was state agriculture commissioner, to temporarily fill the job until the special election is decided. She is the first woman to represent Mississippi in either chamber of Congress, but no woman has been elected to the job from the state.

With Bryant by her side Tuesday night, Hyde-Smith told supporters that she needs them and their friends and family to turn out again in three weeks.

“We’re going to fight like nobody’s business,” Hyde-Smith said. “We’ve got to bring all the conservatives in this state together.”

At his own party in Jackson, Espy asked supporters if they will continue to stand with him in a runoff: “Will you vote with me to make sure everyone deserves a chance in Mississippi, irrespective of age or race or sexual orientation or party? Will you stand with me to make sure that happens?”

The crowd responded: “Yeah!”

Espy continued: “And would you make sure you stand with me and vote to make sure everyone knows that Mississippi is moving forward?”

Wicker was appointed to Senate in 2007 and elected in 2008 and 2012. He is a fiscal and social conservative who serves on the Armed Forces Committee and led the Republicans’ senatorial campaign committee in 2014.

“We’re going to continue building our military strength,” Wicker told The Associated Press on Tuesday night. “I’m going to be working on broadband for rural states like Mississippi. We’re going to continue doing constituent service, and we’re going to make sure health insurance coverage is more competitive and the cost of premiums doesn’t continue to expand.”

Baria said he ran on a vision of “a Mississippi that is welcoming to everyone.”

Espy was elected to the U.S. House from the Mississippi Delta in 1986, becoming the first African-American member of Congress from the state in the 20th Century. In 1993 and 1994, Espy was U.S. agriculture secretary under President Bill Clinton. Democrats are pinning hopes on Espy to become the first in their party since 1982 to win one of Mississippi’s Senate seats. He would be the first African-American in the U.S. Senate from Mississippi since Reconstruction, and he’s campaigning as someone who could unify people across lines of race and party.

Hyde-Smith gave her first speech on the Senate floor in support of Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, who was facing accusations of sexual misconduct that he strongly denied. Hyde-Smith was one of two female senators who sat behind Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine as Collins announced her own support for Kavanaugh, and Hyde-Smith voted with the Republican majority to confirm him.

Although party labels did not appear the special election ballot, candidates let voters know their party affiliation. The candidates eliminated from the race Tuesday were Republican state Sen. Chris McDaniel, who nearly unseated Cochran in a bitter 2014 primary; and Democrat Tobey Bernard Bartee, a former military intelligence officer who ran a low-budget campaign.

McDaniel campaigned as a conservative in the mold of Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, saying he frequently disagrees with the top Senate Republican, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

McDaniel never conceded to Cochran in 2014, saying it was wrong that Democrats voted in a Republican runoff. Mississippi voters don’t register by party, and the only people restricted from voting in a Republican primary runoff are those who voted in the Democratic primary that same election cycle. McDaniel conceded Tuesday night, saying at his party in Laurel: “They won this one fair and square. It’s not like it was in 2014.”

Corey Thomas, 47, of Jackson, a self-employed T-shirt maker, said he was voting for Democrats in both Senate races. Thomas said he was especially displeased with Hyde-Smith’s record.

“Her whole ticket is, ‘I’m with Trump. … We’re going to get this wall up for the illegals and we’re going to do this and we’re going to do that,’” Thomas said. “Everything she’s saying has nothing to do with Mississippi. … I just really don’t want to hear about the high jinx and shenanigans that we see daily. And you support that? If you’re supportive of that, I don’t really think that’s intelligent at all. And I really don’t feel like you’re for the common person that lives in Mississippi.”

Carolyn Myers, 85, of Ridgeland, is retired from working in administrative offices for insurance companies. Myers said she voted for Republicans in both of Mississippi’s U.S. Senate races. Myers described herself as a strong supporter of Trump.

“I think he’s doing a terrific job, and he needs help. … We should send people to help him,” Myers said.

Speaking of Hyde-Smith, Myers said: “I’ve seen her on TV and she seems like a very nice person and she’s backing Trump. She has a strong belief in him.”