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Mississippi was set for a fairly mundane midterm election runoff next week — deciding who would win the final undecided U.S. Senate seat in a state that easily elects Republicans, until a senator greeted a cattle rancher.

In a video posted on Twitter last week, Republican Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith is talking to a rancher named Colin Hutchinson, who is seen putting his arm around her at an event in Tupelo, Miss., earlier this month.

The comment that comes next is hard to understand, but the dispute isn’t about what Hyde-Smith said – it’s about what her words meant.

“If he invited me to a public hanging,” Hyde Smith said to the supporter, “I’d be on the front row.”

The crowd laughs. But many people took the comment to be a reference to lynchings.

That video prompted an onslaught of criticism (Walmart Stores Inc. pulled its support for her campaign and asked for her to return a $1,000 donation on Tuesday) and raised a question for Democrats — could they flip another Senate seat in the Deep South, like they did in Alabama last year?

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