WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump dove into the tumultuous Mississippi Senate runoff in the race's closing hours Monday, appearing at a pair of rallies in the state in support of incumbent Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith hours ahead of Election Day.
Hyde-Smith, who was appointed in April to fill the seat of retiring Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., has been plagued by controversy, much of it race-related, in the weeks following the general election.
One firestorm followed a comment in Tupelo weeks earlier in which she complimented a supporter by saying “if he invited me to a public hanging, I’d be on the front row.”
Trump made no direct mention of that remark Monday in Tupelo, sticking largely to the national themes he used during campaign rallies in the midterms home stretch, including criticism of what he called the Russia investigation "witch hunt" — and praise of the GOP as the party of Abraham Lincoln.
Later, the president responded to a reporter's question on Hyde-Smith's controversial "public hanging" comment, saying he had heard her apologize "loud and clear."
"I know where her heart is, and her heart is good," he said, seated next to Hyde-Smith at a roundtable event in Gulfport.
Earlier in Tupelo, Trump had blasted her opponent, former Clinton administration official Mike Espy, as "far-left," saying the Democrat would rather protect undocumented immigrants than Mississippi residents.
"How does he fit in with Mississippi?" Trump asked in Tupelo, saying later in Biloxi that "a vote for Espy is a vote for the Democrat agenda of socialism and open borders."
During brief appearances on stage Monday, Hyde-Smith herself urged attendees to vote in the runoff so she could continue to "stand up for the conservative values of Mississippi."
Monday's campaign stops also came the day before the official release of a book by former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski and longtime supporter David Bossie that alleges officials within the federal government are attempting to stymie the president's agenda — a theory the president himself again publicly endorsed.
"You still have 'deep state,' but one by one we're getting them out," Trump said in Biloxi. "You have deep state bad people. You have a lot of phony stuff going on."
In Elvis Presley's hometown of Tupelo, the president said he did not want to sound "conceited," but that his younger self had often drawn comparisons to the late singer.
"Other than the blond hair, when I was growing up they said I looked like Elvis," he told the crowd. "Can you believe it? I always considered that a great compliment."