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Trump Touts Hyde-Smith As Mississippi Senate Runoff Draws Attention

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

So what is President Trump doing campaigning in the ruby-red state of Mississippi? He held two rallies there yesterday, campaigning for Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith. She is facing off against challenger Mike Espy in Mississippi's runoff election today. Hyde-Smith is white. Espy is black. And this race drew national attention after Hyde-Smith was recorded saying that if a supporter invited her to a public hanging she, quote, "would be in the front row." And the state of Mississippi, of course, has a painful history of lynching. NPR White House correspondent Scott Horsley joins me now to talk about this.

Hi there, Scott.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good morning, David.

GREENE: So not just one but two rallies yesterday - does President Trump think that his appearances are really going to make a difference in this already very red state?

HORSLEY: It's certainly possible. The president is very popular in Mississippi. He carried the state by nearly 19 points two years ago. It's a largely rural state, the kind of place where Donald Trump tends to be influential and do well. It is, however, also a state with a large African-American population, the largest as a share in the whole country. And that black vote may be mobilized by Senator Hyde-Smith's racially tinged comments. You know, you talk about that history of lynchings in Mississippi. That history colors the present. Just this week, there were nooses found hanging outside the state capital in Jackson.

GREENE: Wow. Well, this isn't even the first time that President Trump has been to Mississippi in this election cycle. I mean, Republicans already have a majority in the Senate. But I take it they're - they really think that one seat can make a big difference.

HORSLEY: That's right. And you don't ordinarily see the president investing political time campaigning in places where they think it is locked up. What's at stake is the difference between a 53-seat majority in the Senate if Hyde-Smith goes on to win or a mere 52-seat majority if she loses. Remember; Democrats have already won the House in the midterm elections. They picked up between 39 and 40 seats there. Republicans had a much more favorable map in the Senate, and they hoped to net a two-seat gain there. They don't want to let a seat slip away in what should be a safe state like Mississippi.

GREENE: So have Democrats been doing better than expectations in the Deep South recently? I mean, is there enough here to call this a trend? I think about Doug Jones winning the Senate seat in Alabama. I think about Stacey Abrams coming pretty close in the governor's race in Georgia. You had Beto O'Rourke in the Senate race in Texas that was close. Is there something we should be paying attention to here?

HORSLEY: You know, there are certainly similarities. There are also big differences. Mississippi doesn't have big cities like Georgia and Texas. Alabama may be the closest analog where, again, Democrats are hoping to repeat the pattern there of mobilizing the black turnout, maybe mobilizing some white voters against a polarizing Republican candidate. We'll see if Cindy Hyde-Smith proves to be as vulnerable in Mississippi as Roy Moore was in Alabama last year.

GREENE: And really briefly, Scott, one more story - the president had some pretty harsh words for GM after the company announced that it's laying off as many as 14,000 or more people. What does this tell us about the president and his effort to revive American manufacturing right now?

HORSLEY: He wants to preserve jobs in, you know, the upper Midwest, which is critical to his election. But beyond jawboning, it's hard to see how much influence he'll really have in that.

GREENE: OK, NPR White House correspondent Scott Horsley. Thank you, Scott.

HORSLEY: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.