At a debate Tuesday night, Mississippi Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith apologized to "anyone that was offended" by her joke about a public hanging, but accused her Democratic opponent of "twisting" her words. "There was no ill will, no intent whatsoever in my statement," the Republican said during the televised debate. She went on to accuse Democrats of turning her words into a "political weapon used for nothing but personal and political gain by my opponent," Politico reports. Democrat Mike Espy, who is African American, responded: "No one's twisted your comments because your comments were live, you know, it came out of your mouth."
Espy said Hyde-Smith's remark, which she made while praising a cattle rancher at a campaign event, had " given our state another black eye that we don't need," the AP reports. Hyde-Smith, who will face Espy in a runoff election Nov. 27, was widely criticized for the hanging remark and took more flak earlier Tuesday when a Facebook post from 2014 surfaced showing her holding a rifle and wearing a Confederate hat during a visit to the Jefferson Davis museum. "Mississippi history at its best!" she said in the post. President Trump defended the candidate Tuesday night, saying the remark was "just sort of said in jest." "She is a tremendous woman and it is a shame that she has to go through this," he said. (Walmart has asked her to return its donations.)