The Republicans pumped resources into Mississippi, and U.S. president Donald Trump made a strong effort on behalf of Ms Hyde-Smith, holding last-minute rallies in Mississippi on Monday.
Hyde-Smith was appointed to the seat earlier this year after longtime incumbent Thad Cochran resigned due to ill health. Given Mississippi's recent pro-Republican complexion (it's been a long time since a Democrat won a Senate, gubernatorial or presidential election there) and history of racial polarization, the idea of an African-American Democrat like Espy winning seemed remote, even though Hyde-Smith ran a awful campaign marked by serial gaffes of a racially inflammatory nature.
Cindy Hyde-Smith is returning to Washington as a solidly loyal Trump supporter. "We still do have a very divided state".
That tactic turned out to be an effort to portray Hyde-Smith as a product of her state's notoriously segregationist past - right down to her having attended a segregated private academy to avoid the court-ordered integration of public schools in the 1970's and proposing a bill in the state senate to rename a highway after Confederate President Jefferson Davis.
"Mr President, thank you so much for all of your help", Hyde-Smith said during a victory speech, stressing that the race was about preserving the "conservative values" of the state. After taking her current Senate seat, Hyde-Smith became the first woman to represent MS in either chamber of Congress.
However, Mississippi's Black Republicans remained loyal to Hyde-Smith, according to McClatchy News. In and itself that is not necessarily problematic, but the caption Hyde-Smith posted below the photo, presumably written by her, clearly said that Confederate artifacts and weapons represent "Mississippi history at its best!"
Espy, a former cabinet member in the Clinton administration campaigned as a moderate who would work with Trump and Republicans to benefit the state.
Indeed, almost a dozen Black Republicans interviewed by McClatchy dismissed Hyde-Smith's public hanging remark.
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"I thought Mike Espy ran a very good campaign", said supporter Machelle Kyles of Bolton. The outcome gives Republicans a 53-to-47 majority in the Senate, while Democrats will take control of the House after gaining at least 39 seats.
Most of her supporters shrugged off her public-hanging comments. Because no candidate got 50 percent three weeks ago, the top two vote-getters Hyde-Smith and Espy advanced to the runoff.
Hyde-Smith and Espy squared off in Tuesday's runoff after a November 6 special election in which two other candidates, including anti-establishment conservative Chris McDaniel, were defeated.
Those remarks set off a national maelstrom, with Democrats seeing them as a reference to lynching in a state that had the highest number of lynchings in the Jim Crow era.
Hyde-Smith offered a brief apology to anyone who may have been offended.
Still, Espy often struggled to address accusations of ethical lapses. Hyde-Smith now leads 56 percent to 44 percent, although the remaining uncounted vote figures to be Democratic-leaning.
"We are so locked into the concept of tradition as in heritage; I'm sure I had relatives who fought in the Civil War". Espy was acquitted of all charges.