You know the political winds have turned against Republicans when they're worried about losing a Senate seat from Mississippi. But that's where they're at now and it couldn't have happened to a crappier group of super villains. Monday, the New York Times ran a story with one of its classic eye-rolling headlines: "In Mississippi, Issues of Race Complicate a Special Election." I didn't have coffee this morning. That "complicates" my day. We aren't talking about minor inconveniences here. Republican Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith has joked about public lynchings and voter suppression in a state with a shameful history of both. She's not auditioning for the hosting gig at the next White House Correspondents Dinner. She's trying to win the upcoming runoff election against Democrat Mike Espy.

A special election for the Senate in Mississippi has become a test of racial and partisan politics in the Deep South, as a Republican woman, Cindy Hyde-Smith, and an African-American Democrat, Mike Espy, compete for the last Senate seat still up for grabs in the 2018 midterm campaign.

This is odd phrasing. Espy is described as an "African-American Democrat," which is relevant to the story, but Hyde-Smith is described as just a "Republican woman." Are we not supposed to know she's white? The article seriously never mentions it. I used all the advanced technology at my disposal to confirm.

The New York Times

I guess if you forget about soon-to-be-former House member Mia Love, "Republican woman" is basically synonymous with "white woman." But it wouldn't have hurt for the Times to say it outright. It's not like they're covering one of Donald Trump's "false or misleading" statements. It's also somewhat the point of the whole article: Mississippi is racially polarized and white politicians usually just ignore minorities outright or make subtle, coded racial appeals to "law and order." It's expected that they'd, for instance, slam Barack Obama because he's "not like us." "Us" means white. Overtly racist appeals, though, make you look like you're standing in front of a public school refusing to let black students enter. It creates, as the Times puts it, "discomfort among educated whites." I guess it takes an advanced degree to produce mild discomfort over lynching humor.

Hyde-Smith has responded horribly to all this. She's "retreated" from the campaign trail and won't actually apologize for her comments. An internal Republican poll has her lead over Espy down to just five points. That's some effective voter suppression but they could do better. The senator has focused on turning out her conservative white base, and Donald Trump will fly in to campaign for her -- unless, of course, it rains. Meanwhile, she's made some feeble attempts at not appearing like an antagonist from BlacKkKlansman. Her campaign returned a $2,700 donation from Seattle businessman Peter Zieve, the CEO of aerospace supplier Electroimpact. Zieve was sued for discriminating against Muslims in his hiring practices. He considers Middle Eastern refugees "terrorist savages" and offered $1,000 "marriage" and "child" bonuses. The latter might seem like some Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez pro-family dream legislation, but it actually was targeted at Zieve's mostly white, male employees so they could prevent the US from being "backfilled with rubbish from the desperate and criminal populations of the Third World."

He seems nice.

Zieve donated to the campaign of a senator thousands of miles away shortly after her "public hanging" video went viral. He claims there's no connection. He just "believes she's a Republican." I suspect the major Trump donor also believes she's something else.

Hyde-Smith's campaign will lose more money this week, and it's not even Black Friday yet. After national treasure Debra Messing publicly shamed them on Twitter, slave-labor retailer Walmart asked that Hyde-Smith return their $2,000 donation. (Walmart is great about negotiating discounts from suppliers -- it apparently picked up Hyde-Smith's racism for more than 25 percent less than Zieve.)

I presume Walmart will permit Hyde-Smith to continue purchasing her outfits from them.

This is a lot of bad press a week before the special election. What Hyde-Smith really needs is an unrelated, irrelevant distraction. I wonder if the Times could help out a lady of undetermined ethnicity?

If Ms. Hyde-Smith's conduct has put her campaign in jeopardy, Mr. Espy has been grappling with baggage of his own. Republicans have assailed him for working as a lobbyist, and for having been indicted in the 1990s on corruption charges of which he was eventually acquitted. On social media and in advertisements, Republicans have tried to tie the moderate Mr. Espy to liberals, including the billionaire donor George Soros and former President Barack Obama.

Seriously, what's with these people? Their "both sides" dogma drove them to pull the same BS on Andrew Gillum -- equating the barest whisper of scandal to the Republican candidate's very loud bigotry. And where Hyde-Smith's political problems are self-inflicted, the Times presents typical GOP dirty tricks as Espy's own "baggage." It's also completely irresponsible to repeat the right-wing urban legend of George Soros as some sort of nefarious liberal puppet master. But hey, it's the Times! It would be irresponsible not to be irresponsible!

This is the sort of mealy-mouthed journalism that lets the GOP get away with 1950s Dixiecrat, race-baiting that would shame Lee Atwater.

It's especially vile when Republicans say this about black politicians from Southern states with a significant black population (they also accused Stacey Abrams of being too "radical" for Georgia). The Southern black electorate is why Barack Obama won the 2008 primaries. Yet Obama is the socialist Kenyan "outsider" who doesn't belong and New York native Donald Trump, who I wager never set foot in Mississippi until 2016, is a "good ol' boy." What exactly are the "Mississippi values" that neither Booker and Espy possess but Hyde-Smith and the thrice-married, pussy-grabber-in-chief hold in abundance?

Don't waste your time trying to figure it out. Just go here to donate to Espy's campaign.

Follow Stephen Robinson on Twitter.

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Stephen Robinson

Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He writes reviews for the A.V. Club and make believe for Cafe Nordo, an immersive theatre space in Seattle. He's also on the board of the Portland Playhouse theatre. His son describes him as a “play typer guy."


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