The Note: Alarms blare for GOP in Mississippi

The TAKE with Rick Klein

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Cue the Republican panic, right in time for a holiday weekend.

What was supposed to be an election afterthought, with Republicans just needing the technicality of a runoff to keep a Senate seat in Mississippi, is developing into a potential nightmare scenario for the GOP.

It’s not just that the runoff is taking up brain space, or resources, or requiring some presidential travel on the eve of next week’s election.

It’s that Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith has said and done things that make the Republican Party’s strained relationship with voters of color even more fraught.

Her comments about voter suppression and a “public hanging,” and now a Facebook picture where she tried on a Confederate hat, are scaring away backers — and reminding Democrats of the stakes. The Democratic candidate in the race, Mike Espy, is hoping to break through in a way African-American Democrats in nearby Florida and Georgia weren’t quite able to.

At their only debate Tuesday night, Hyde-Smith offered an apology “for anyone that was offended,” but went on to argue that her words were “twisted” for political means.

Espy countered: “It came out of your mouth. I don’t know what’s in your heart, but we all know what came out of your mouth.”

There’s no way to forecast turnout in a one-off election that takes place right after a holiday weekend. That has Republicans worried about a race that they weren’t supposed to sweat.

The RUNDOWN with MaryAlice Parks

This holiday week, instead of thanks, the Trump administration is doling out a lot of blame.

The frighteningly deadly California wildfires? Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke blamed “radical environmental groups” out West.

The federal ruling striking down the administration’s proposed asylum policy? “This was an Obama judge,” the president said.

The delay in finding Osama bin Laden? Clearly, every other Democratic president’s fault.

Ironically, there seems to be blame to go around, except on the one issue that Congress is itching for the president to act on: the killing of a U.S.-based journalist that the U.S. intelligence community believes the Saudi Arabian crown prince personally green-lit.

Instead of responding with sanctions, as several members of Congress on both sides of the aisle have suggested, Trump doubled down on Tuesday and said he had no interest in holding the leaders of the country accountable. Maintaining a good relationship with the Saudis was important for U.S. interests, the president said, even if that meant giving the prince an apparent pass on what looks like a politically calculated murder.

Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images
President Donald Trump shakes hands with Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the Oval Office of the White House, March 20, 2018, in Washington, DC.

The TIP with Kendall Karson

Amid the fury over racially tinged comments and verbal sparring between the final two candidates of this election season — Mississippi voters finally got to hear from GOP Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith and Democrat Mike Espy on the issues — mainly on health care.

Democrats across the country staked the blue wave on the signature issue in 2018, campaigning on preserving the Affordable Care Act.

But in deep-red Mississippi, the health care battle is far more complicated: The state is among the poorest in the country, but also voted for the law’s fiercest opponent, President Donald Trump, by nearly 20 points in 2016, and against federal Medicaid expansion.

Although Espy shies away from using the terms Affordable Care Act or Obamacare on the trail, the issue remains a cornerstone of his campaign. Tuesday night, he sought to boast his commitment to protecting pre-existing conditions because he has one: a condition that gives him his raspy voice.

For her part, Hyde-Smith aimed to cast her challenger as too liberal for Mississippi, hoping that Espy’s support for Obamacare will rev up her base in the final week before the runoff.

But when asked, in a prepared question by Espy, if she knew exactly what she cast a vote against — when the Senate took up a Democratic bill in October that would eliminate short-term health care plans that don’t cover pre-existing conditions and ultimately failed — she responded without hesitation.

“Absolutely,” she said, “I knew what I was voting for.”

PHOTO: Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith speaks with supporters during a campaign stop at the Northwest Mississippi Association of Realtors office in Nesbit, Miss., Oct. 26, 2018. Brandon Dill/EPA/Rex/Shutterstock
Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith speaks with supporters during a campaign stop at the Northwest Mississippi Association of Realtors office in Nesbit, Miss., Oct. 26, 2018.

THE PLAYLIST

ABC News’ “Start Here” Podcast. Wednesday morning’s episode features ABC News Senior White House Correspondent Cecilia Vega and ABC News Senior Foreign Correspondent Ian Pannell — they explain why the Trump administration is standing by Saudi Arabia after the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Pannell says of the upcoming G20 summit with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, “This will be the real moment of truth whether we know whether everyone’s essentially just swept this under the carpet.” https://bit.ly/2Ohkpz8

ABC News’ “Powerhouse Politics” Podcast. On Wednesday’s episode, ABC News’ Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl and Political Director Rick Klein talk to Congressional Correspondent Mary Bruce about the House leadership fight and the tussles over press access at the White House. https://bit.ly/2w091jE

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW TODAY

The president is in Mar-a-Lago for the Thanksgiving holiday with no public events scheduled.

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The Note is a daily ABC News feature that highlights the key political moments of the day ahead. Please check back on Monday for the latest.


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