President Donald Trump did not address incendiary remarks made by interim Sen. Cindy Hyde Smith as he campaigned for her Monday in Tupelo and Biloxi on the eve of Tuesday’s runoff election against Democrat Mike Espy.
Speaking outside – between the Tupelo Regional Airport terminal and the runway on a chilly day – Trump called his fellow Republican, “a very special, special woman who is going to do a special job.” Inside the Mississippi Coast Coliseum in Biloxi, Trump said Hyde-Smith “is respected by all” in Washington.
Trump held rallies in Tupelo and Biloxi on Monday to campaign for Hyde-Smith as Espy appears to have gained momentum in recent days, thanks at least in part to controversial comments Hyde-Smith has made on the campaign trail.
In a stop in Tupelo in early October, Hyde-Smith said in voicing support for a supporter that she would be on the front row of a public hanging if invited by him and the next day at Mississippi State University voiced support for suppressing “liberal voters” at other state schools.
Hyde-Smith, who eventually apologized, said she was only joking.
After his stop in Tupelo, Trump traveled to Biloxi for a second Mississippi rally.
Trump, who is known for his own incendiary comments, attacked the media at the rallies, touted the economy and vowed to protect the country from illegal immigration.
“Build the wall,” the crowd, estimated at 5,000 by some, chanted in Tupelo as if on cue.
The crowd began to gather about noon at the airport on a cloudless, brisk day.
It oohed as the blue and white plane, not the standard-sized aircraft because of the size of the Tupelo airport, landed and taxied to a stop right in front of the crowd at about 4:30 p.m. Trump and Hyde-Smith disembarked together from Air Force 1, which is the designation of the plane the president uses, as Lee Greenwood’s “Proud to be an American” blared from the speakers.
By the time Trump finished his 45 minute speech, the sun had just about set and the temperature continued to fall.
Of the need to elect Hyde-Smith, he said “We need every last Republican vote in the United States Senate,” to defend tax cuts, deregulation, 2nd Amendment rights, to confirm “great judicial nominees” and to “keep the criminals and drug dealers and terrorist the hell out of our country.”
He added, “Now you have a president who is standing up for America who loves your country. We all love our country. We are standing up for your values. We are standing up for our Mississippi and we are proudly standing up for our great National Anthem.”
He called Espy “Cindy’s far left opponent. How does he fit into Mississippi?”
Espy, who in 1986 became the first African American from Mississippi elected to the U.S House in the modern era, and Hyde-Smith, appointed by Gov. Phil Bryant to replace long-term Sen. Thad Cochran who stepped down for health reasons, are in the runoff because neither garnered a majority vote in the Nov. 6 first election. The winner will make history in Tuesday’s election as either the first woman or first African American elected to the Senate from Mississippi.
Campaigning Monday in Ridgeland, Espy told the Associated Press, Trump’s visits to Mississippi would not deter his efforts.
“Mississippi first means I value Mississippi over everything else – over party, over persons, over everybody. I am an independent person, and I will be an independent senator.”
Trump stopped his speech for Hyde-Smith to address the crowd in Tupelo and Biloxi.
“I will stand for your conservative values. That is what is on the ballot tomorrow,” she said.
Austin Johnson, from Fulton, wearing a Trump cap, said he did not know much about Hyde-Smith, a former state senator from Brookhaven, but he had planned to vote for her before the president’s visit.
Of Trump, he sad, “I like that he doesn’t take crap from nobody and he does what he says he is going to do.”
Kathryn Rhea said she was a Trump fan, but “more fan of the office.” She brought her two children Charles, 5, and Clayton, 7, to see the first visit by a sitting president to Tupelo since Franklin Roosevelt in the 1930s.
Early in his speech, Trump recognized Tupelo’s most favorite native son, Elvis Presley, and said, that except for the blond hair, people said he looked like Elvis as a young man.