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Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith and Mike Espy. Photos: Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call; Sylvain Gaboury/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images.

Mississippi's special Senate election — once thought to be a foregone conclusion — has taken on a national profile and is now being actively targeted by Democrats as the race heads to a runoff next week.

The big picture: The contest between Republican Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, who would be the first woman elected to represent the state in Congress, and Democrat Mike Espy, who would be Mississippi's first African-American senator since Reconstruction, has devolved into what Politico calls "a bare-knuckle brawl infused with ugly racial politics."

What happened

At a campaign event this month, Hyde-Smith told a supporter that if he invited her to a public hanging, she would be "on the front row."

  • She said in a statement that it was "an exaggerated expression of regard, and any attempt to turn this into a negative connotation is ridiculous," Roll Call reports.
  • Espy's camp responded that her comments "have no place in our political discourse, in Mississippi, or our country."
  • Derrick Johnson, the president of the NAACP, said that "Hyde-Smith's decision to joke about 'hanging,' in a state known for its violent and terroristic history towards African Americans is sick."

She also said that suppressing college student votes might be a "good thing" because it would make it "just a little more difficult" for "liberal folks in those other schools" to vote, CNN reported.

Where things stand

Hyde-Smith, who took over for former Sen. Thad Cochran earlier this year, was nine points ahead of Espy in an October NBC News/Marist Poll.

  • It was expected that she wasn't going to receive 50% of the vote on election night because of a vote split with Republican competitor on the ballot, thus pushing the race to a runoff, per the New Yorker.
  • Since Hyde-Smith's contentious comments, Espy has worked to win over black voters and progressive white voters. Per CNN, Epsy told a group of more than 100 women over the weekend that his election would portray "a Mississippi that's moving forward, a Mississippi with a better image."

Epsy has come under fire for his own baggage during the campaign, including being indicted — and acquitted— of corruption charges in the 1990s, the New York Times reports.

What's next

The runoff is set to take place next week on Nov. 27, and the only debate in the race is set for Tuesday.

  • Showcasing Espy's momentum, prominent Senate Democrats and potential 2020 candidates like Kamala Harris and Cory Booker have already visited Mississippi to campaign — and more could be coming after the Thanksgiving holiday.
  • Trump will visit the state to back Hyde-Smith with two rallies on Nov. 26 — in Tupelo and Biloxi.

Go deeper:

Go deeper

Federal court blocks Biden's vaccine mandate for health workers in 10 states

President Biden delivers remarks on the Omicron COVID-19 variant following a meeting with his COVID-19 response team. Photo: Anna Moneymaker via Getty Images

A federal court in Missouri has blocked the Biden administration from enforcing a coronavirus vaccine mandate for health care workers at federally-funded facilities in 10 states.

Why it matters: Monday's decision is the first victory for opponents of the rule, which requires health care workers to get vaccinated by Jan. 4, 2022. The case is one of four lawsuits challenging the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services' (CMS) rule and argues that the mandate will exacerbate staffing shortages.

Twitter's next act

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Twitter co-founder and CEO Jack Dorsey is exiting the company he helped build at a time when its future has never been so uncertain.

Why it matters: The person who controls Twitter controls the de facto public square — with implications for politics, media and free speech.

43 mins ago - Health

CDC strengthens COVID booster recommendation

Rochelle Walensky. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Monday strengthened its previous recommendation for booster shots, saying that everyone 18 and older "should" receive a booster dose.

Why it matters: Last month, CDC director Rochelle Walensky accepted a key advisory committee's recommendation that adults "may" get the shot. The slight, but strengthened, change in wording comes amid the emergence of the Omicron coronavirus variant.