DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Mississippi Republican Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith has held on to her seat after a closer-than-expected runoff election. It was close enough that President Trump traveled to the state twice to stump for her.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I'm here to ask the people of Mississippi to send Cindy Hyde-Smith back to the United States Senate...
TRUMP: ...So we can make America great again.
GREENE: All right. Let's talk about these results with NPR's Scott Detrow who's here.
Hi there, Scott.
SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Good morning.
GREENE: OK. So no surprise that a Republican senator wins in very Republican Mississippi. I mean, this is a state that Trump carried by 18 points in 2016. So why was this so close?
DETROW: You know, it was supposed to be a formality. But Hyde-Smith said several things that she insisted were jokes but, for many people, tapped right into Mississippi's dark racist past - first, joking that she would accompany a supporter who had endorsed her to a public hanging. She said it was a term of affection - you know, I'd follow you anywhere. But of course, with a history of lynching in the state, that jumped out to a lot of people. Hyde-Smith really froze for several days after that, not really apologizing or making many public statements. And that made the problem worse.
And then she said something else after that, that kind of added to this, about how - joking that she wanted to make it harder for liberals to vote - insisting that was a joke but, again, reminding people of a lot of things like poll taxes and other efforts to disenfranchise black voters.
GREENE: Well, among the things she was saying, she was also talking about her relationship with the president. I mean, her bus was dubbed the MAGA Wagon for Make America Great Again. She had pictures of herself with Trump. She said she always voted with the president. Did all that help her, do you think?
DETROW: I think it really did. And really, her campaign boiled down to - I'm a loyal supporter of President Trump; I'll be with him all the time. And for all the focus on how the president has hurt Republicans in suburban House districts and how that's a big reason why Republicans lost control of the House, he is a great ally for them in conservative states where voters still like him. You saw that in races like Indiana and North Dakota, Florida, Missouri earlier this month. And you saw it here, too, to the fact that he was a big part of her campaign. And he came and did two rallies with her on different sides of the state on the eve of the election. That likely played a big part in the win.
GREENE: All right. So these results mean that Republicans are now going to have 53 seats in the Senate compared to what they currently have, 51. President Trump is insisting this is a huge victory. Is a two-seat difference a big deal?
DETROW: You know, it's not quite the epic victory that the president claims, but this will make a big difference for Republicans. They keep the majority. They have much more breathing room. Right now they can really never afford to lose a single Republican or bills are in big danger of not passing. They've got more votes to work with now, and they're going to use that to confirm a whole lot more federal judges over the next two years. Mitch McConnell has made that clear. That is a priority, and 53 seats helps him do it a lot easier.
GREENE: Scott, thanks a lot.
DETROW: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.