3rd LD Writethru: Trump-backed candidate projected to win Mississippi Senate runoff

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WASHINGTON, Nov. 27 (Xinhua) -- Republican candidate Cindy Hyde-Smith, backed by U.S. President Donald Trump, is projected to win Tuesday night's special Senate election in the state of Mississippi, according to U.S. broadcasters.

Hyde-Smith's victory over Democrat Mike Espy will help Republicans start the new Congress in January with a 53-47 majority in the Senate.

With 88 percent of votes being reported, Hyde-Smith had 54.2 percent, or 415,356 votes, to 45.8 percent, or 350,590 votes, for Espy, according to NBC News.

Hyde-Smith becomes the first woman elected to the Senate from Mississippi.

She will serve out the remaining two years of former Republican Senator Thad Cochran's term, whom she was appointed to replace earlier this year after he stepped down due to health concerns.

"This is just an unbelievable night," Hyde-Smith told supporters at a post-election event.

She told reporters that prison reform and the economy would be issues she will focus on in Washington D.C.

Trump, who visited Mississippi, a state he won by 18 points in the 2016 presidential election, on Monday for rallies supporting Hyde-Smith's campaign, congratulated her on the win on Twitter late Tuesday.

"We are all very proud of you," the president wrote.

Hyde-Smith and Espy, an ex-congressman who served as agriculture secretary under former President Bill Clinton, were forced into a runoff after neither received the requisite 50 percent of the vote in the general election on Nov. 6.

In a statement Tuesday night, Espy, an African American politician, said the election is "the beginning, not the end."

"We are not going to stop moving our state forward just because of one election. I look forward to finding new ways to do just that," he said.

The Hyde-Smith and Espy runoff was tainted by race-related controversies. Most prominently, footage of remarks Hyde-Smith made earlier this month about being willing to attend a "public hanging" drew national attention.

Hyde-Smith has insisted that her remarks were not intended to have any racial connotation, but were interpreted as such by many in Mississippi, where lynchings were once frequent and racial tensions run deep.

In the last few weeks of her campaign, Hyde-Smith held few events and generally avoided speaking with the press.

The Mississippi runoff also concluded the 2018 midterm elections, during which Republicans expanded their majority in the Senate with a net gain of two seats, while Democrats made a net gain of at least 39 seats in the House with one race left to be called. Enditem

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