How a tweet could change the outcome in Mississippi’s Senate race

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NEW ORLEANS -  The short video clip is hard to hear, but two words are clear enough - and could change the outcome of an election.

The words are: "public hanging."

Lamar White, Jr., publisher of the Louisiana political website, "The Bayou Brief," posted a ten second clip on Twitter of a comment made by Cindy Hyde-Smith at a campaign rally in Tupelo.  Hyde-Smith is the  GOP candidate in a runoff against Democrat Mike Espy for a seat in the U.S. Senate.

In the video, Hyde-Smith appears to thank a man who's just introduced her by saying, "If he invited me to a public hanging, I would be in the front row."

A tipster sent White the video and he tweeted that clip on November 11.  Since then, it's been viewed an astonishing 14 million times-- on White's Twitter page alone-- and Hyde-Smith's comfortable lead in the runoff has evaporated.

"I do think it has turned this race upside down," says White. "She was a shoe-in to win before this."

Hyde-Smith's opponent, Espy, is black, and his supporters view the "public hanging" remark as blatantly racist-- a reference to the "lynching" of blacks in Mississippi's past.

At first, Hyde-Smith said her remark was simply "an exaggerated expression of regard."  But in a debate between the two candidates on Tuesday (Nov. 20), Hyde-Smith apologized, while claiming that Espy had "twisted" her words into a "political weapon."

Even President Trump has weighed in on the controversy.  He plans to travel to Mississippi to campaign for Hyde-Smith and when a reporter asked him about the comment, he called Hyde-Smith "a spectacular woman."

"She made a statement which I know that she feels very badly about," said the President, "and it was just sort of said in jest... It's a shame that she has to go through this."

White says he isn't sure what Hyde-Smith meant by the remark, but he says "it's not anything I've ever heard anyone say in the South as a joke."  He also says he had no qualms about posting the comment online.

"As volatile as our politics are, and as volatile as racial dynamics are in this country, we need people to expose the truth," says White. "And the truth about this woman, it seems, is that she's been getting away with, sort of, implicit or casual racism, perhaps unwittingly, for most of her life."

White says the response to his Twitter post has been overwhelmingly supportive, except for a handful of menacing remarks from "a few white supremacist, racist types."

"There was one guy," says White, "who sarcastically thanked me for forever ruining the word 'hanging'-- as if we lived in the Wild West or something."

White says he's more worried about the safety of the person who recorded the video. "I'm sure that (the person) is scared to death," says White, "The (Hyde-Smith) campaign knows who this person is, and that must be terrifying."

The best response White says he's received was a message from Bernice King, daughter of Dr. Martin Luther King.

"Language is powerful," King wrote. "That (Hyde-Smith) so blithely joked about a 'public hanging' on land where the blood of dehumanized, brutalized, lynched black people still cries out is a reminder that we must stop denying that racism is still a festering, pervasive evil in the U.S."

The runoff election is November 27.




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