Drawing cheers from a gaggle of supporters, the line appeared to be a throwaway one.
"If he invited me to a public hanging, I'd be on the front row," Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, R-Miss., is heard saying in a video posted to Twitter on Sunday morning.
The full context of her comment was not immediately clear, but she faced swift backlash. Lamar White, a journalist and blogger who tweeted the video, said in his tweet that Hyde-Smith made the remark while campaigning with a cattle rancher in Tupelo, Mississippi. There was no response to an email to a spokeswoman for Hyde-Smith and calls to her offices Sunday for comment.
Hyde-Smith became the first woman to represent Mississippi in Congress after she was appointed in April to replace Thad Cochran, a Republican senator who was forced to step down because of health problems. She faces Democrat Mike Espy in a Nov. 27 runoff to determine who will serve the remaining two years of Cochran's term, as neither candidate was able to win more than 50 percent of the vote in the Nov. 6 special election, according to the Clarion Ledger.
Espy and Hyde-Smith, who received President Donald Trump's endorsement, were the two highest vote-getters, each receiving about 41 percent of the vote. If Espy were to win, he would be become the first black senator to represent the state since the reconstruction era.
A sitting US Senator, IN MISSISSIPPI just said "If he invited me to a public hanging I'd be on the front row." This is Senator Cindy-Hyde Smith @SenHydeSmith running for re-election against a black man, Mike Espy saying she'll sit front row at a public hanging.... pic.twitter.com/ca66UpuwFF- Tylik M. McMillan (@TylikMcMillan) November 12, 2018
In a statement Sunday, Espy called Hyde-Smith's comments "reprehensible." He added, "They have no place in our political discourse, in Mississippi, or our country. We need leaders, not dividers, and her words show that she lacks the understanding and judgment to represent the people of our state."
Many critics of Hyde-Smith's comment also noted the history of racism and hangings in the state. Statistics from the NAACP show that nearly one-eighth of the 4,743 lynchings between 1882 and 1968 that occurred in the United States took place in Mississippi.
Cristen Hemmins, chair of the Lafayette County Democrats in Mississippi, said the video was "absolutely stunning."
"With the history of lynching of Mississippi, you just don't say something like that," Hemmins said in an interview Sunday. "I can't even imagine the kind of mind that would come up with a throwaway phrase like that. I'm a Mississippian. Nobody I know talks like that. It's absolutely unacceptable."
Hyde-Smith, of Brookhaven, Mississippi, is a former Mississippi Democratic state senator and agriculture commissioner. In 2010, she switched to the Republican Party, according to the Clarion Ledger. Last week, she vowed to keep pushing Trump's agenda, asserting that "Republicans are going to keep this seat" and that she would "fight like nobody's business the next three weeks."
Trump has been vocal in his support for Hyde-Smith, tweeting in August that she is "strong" on issues such as job creation and his proposed southern border wall, helping him to "put America First!"
He added, "Cindy has voted for our Agenda in the Senate 100% of the time and has my complete and total Endorsement. We need Cindy to win in Mississippi!"
At an Oct. 2 rally in Southaven, Miss., Trump continued to stump for Hyde-Smith.
"She's always had my back," he said. "She's always had your back. And a vote for Cindy is a vote for me."
Republicans are expected to gain seats in the Senate. The majority they held before the election, 51 seats, will end up higher - between 52 and 54 depending on races in Florida and Arizona.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)