TUPELO, Miss. (AP) — President Donald Trump was back to the same playbook he used for the midterm elections as he returned to the campaign trail Monday to try to keep a Mississippi Senate seat in GOP hands.
While Trump has stressed his desire for bipartisan cooperation in the days since Republicans lost control of the House, the president unleashed his usual rhetoric as he stumped for Republican Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith against Democrat Mike Espy ahead of Tuesday's runoff election.
Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith and President Trump arriving in Tupelo (Alvin Ivy)
President Trump speaking in Tupelo with Air Force One in the background (Alvin Ivy)
He told a crowd in Tupelo on Monday that the runoff would "decide whether we build on our extraordinary achievements or whether we empower the radical Democrats to obstruct our progress." He claimed Espy would "vote in total lockstep" with Sen. Chuck Schumer, Rep. Nancy Pelosi and "the legendary Maxine Waters," drawing resounding boos — even though Trump has said that Pelosi deserves to become the next House speaker and that he could even find Republican members to vote for her.
The comments underscore the president's willingness to cycle between insults and flattery depending on his purpose. And they foreshadow the messaging dissonance that could mark the next two years of his presidency as Trump faces a divided Congress after two years of Republican control. Trump has said he hopes to work with Democrats on bipartisan issues, such as infrastructure and prison reform, but has also warned he'll refuse to collaborate with them if they launch a flurry of investigations against him and his administration, as they have discussed.
Trump was in Mississippi holding a pair of campaign rallies for Hyde-Smith in an eleventh-hour effort to keep the seat in GOP hands. Hyde-Smith's runoff election against Espy, a former congressman and U.S. agriculture secretary, has been far closer than expected thanks to a series of racial controversies, including a photo that emerged of Hyde-Smith wearing a replica hat of a Confederate soldier, and a video in which she said she'd be "on the front row" if invited to a public hanging.
Before he left the White House on Monday, Trump said Hyde-Smith had "apologized" and "misspoke" and "felt very badly" about her comment.
If victorious, Espy would become Mississippi's first black senator since Reconstruction and its first Democrat elected to the Senate since 1982. Trump won 58 percent of the state's vote in 2016, and Hyde-Smith has tied herself closely to his presidency.
"I am honored to have President Trump's endorsement," she said Monday as the two appeared at a chilly outdoor rally at the airport in the northeastern city of Tupelo, best known as the birthplace of Elvis Presley.
Trump gave a shout-out to the "king of rock 'n' roll" after taking the stage and said that, when he was young, "other than the blond hair, they said I looked like Elvis."
Trump and Hyde-Smith were later flying to the Gulf Coast for a larger evening rally in Biloxi. Trump will also be participating in a discussion about prison and sentencing reform legislation while he's in the state.
Tuesday's winner will finish the final two years of the term begun by Republican Sen. Thad Cochran, who resigned in April because of health problems.
It's the last U.S. Senate race of the 2018 election season. Republicans held onto their slim majority in the Senate but lost control of the House. If Hyde-Smith emerges as the winner of Tuesday's runoff, the GOP would hold a 53-47 advantage in the Senate.
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