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Republican Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith has defeated Democrat Mike Espy in Tuesday night's special Senate election in Mississippi, a contest tainted by race-related controversies, NBC News projects.
With 78 percent of votes being reported, Hyde-Smith had 55.2 percent, or 363,567 votes, to 44.8 percent, or 296,254 votes, for Espy, according to NBC News.
Hyde-Smith - Woman - Congress - Mississippi - Years
Hyde-Smith, who becomes the first woman elected to Congress from Mississippi, will serve out the remaining two years of former GOP Sen. Thad Cochran's term, whom she was appointed to replace earlier this year after he resigned.
With her win, Republicans will start the new Congress in January with a 53-47 majority in the Senate. The GOP expanded its Senate majority in the midterm elections despite Democrats making a net gain of at least 39 seats in the House with one race left to be called.
Hyde-Smith - Espy - Ex-congressman - Agriculture - Secretary
Hyde-Smith and Espy, an ex-congressman who served as agriculture secretary under former President Bill Clinton, went to a runoff after neither received more than 50 percent of the vote on Election Day. In that three-way election, GOP state Sen. Chris McDaniel, who ran to Hyde-Smith's right, picked up more than 16 percent of the vote.
The Hyde-Smith and Espy runoff was marred by a number of race-related controversies in its home stretch. Most prominently, footage of a remark Hyde-Smith made earlier this month about her willingness to attend a "public hanging" drew national attention.
Hyde-Smith - Remark - Connotation - State - Lynchings
Hyde-Smith insisted the remark was not intended to have any racial connotation, but many interpreted it as such in a state where lynchings were once frequent and racial tensions still run deep.
In a debate last week, Hyde-Smith apologized to anyone who was offended, but added that her words were "twisted" to be used against her. Espy accused Hyde-Smith of having given the state "another black eye."
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