Appointed U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, R-Miss., answers a question during a televised Mississippi U.S. Senate debate with Democrat Mike Espy in Jackson, Miss., Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2018. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis, Pool)

Trump tweets support of Mississippi senator ahead of runoff

November 25, 2018 - 2:55 pm

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — President Donald Trump tweeted support Sunday for U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, calling the Mississippi Republican an "outstanding person" the day before he planned to campaign with her ahead of Tuesday's runoff election.

Trump heads to Mississippi on Monday to campaign for Hyde-Smith — his second trip to the state on the senator's behalf since October.

Hyde-Smith is the first woman to represent Mississippi in Congress since a temporary Senate appointment in April. She's up against Democratic former U.S. Rep. Mike Espy, a former U.S. agriculture secretary vying to become the first black senator from the state since Reconstruction. The winner Tuesday gets the final two years of a six-year term.

Trump and Hyde-Smith are set to appear together Monday in the northeastern city of Tupelo, best known as the birthplace of Elvis Presley. Then, they fly to the Gulf Coast for a later rally in Biloxi.

Trump tweeted about the race at least twice Sunday. "Mississippi, Vote for @cindyhydesmith on Tuesday. Respected by all. We need her in Washington!. Thanks!" he wrote .

The president also touted Monday's rallies , adding Hyde-Smith "is an outstanding person who is strong on the Border, Crime, Military, our great Vets, Healthcare & the 2nd A. Needed in D.C."

In the final weeks of campaigning, race has become a dominant issue.

Espy vows to bring his experience of "diversity" and "inclusion" to the job, qualities he says are lacking in his white Republican opponent. Hyde-Smith has had several stumbles, defending herself after a photograph emerged of her wearing a replica Confederate soldier's hat, as well as a videotape of her praising a supporter by saying she would sit on the front row of a public hanging with him.

Hyde-Smith apologized and said she meant no ill will with the hanging comment. She and her campaign have refused to talk about the Confederate hat.

The winner finishes the term of Sen. Thad Cochran, who resigned in April amid health concerns. It's the last U.S. Senate race to be decided in 2018 and will determine whether Republicans add to their slim majority.

In recent days, Hyde-Smith has been asked to explain why she attended a private, almost all-white school, dozens of which sprang up across the South to counter court-ordered school desegregation in the 1970s. Espy recalled how racist insults were yelled at him and twin sister and they were among the 17 black students who integrated the all-white Yazoo City High School in 1969.

"I guess you could juxtapose my experience with her experience," Espy told The Associated Press.

Hyde-Smith's campaign called the school issue a personal attack on her family meant to draw attention away from real issues.

The hard-fought Senate race is expected to drive a higher-than-usual turnout for a runoff in Mississippi. More than 43,000 absentee ballots have been requested for the runoff, and that number could increase as circuit clerks continue compiling information, the Mississippi secretary of state's office said Saturday.

About 69,000 absentee ballots were requested before the Nov. 6 election. There's typically a large decrease in ballots cast between the first election and a runoff.

Mississippi last elected a Democrat to the Senate in 1982.

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For AP's complete coverage of the U.S. midterm elections: http://apne.ws/APPolitics . Follow Emily Wagster Pettus on Twitter: http://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus .