Trump locked in fresh race row
She's posed in a Confederate hat, joked about public hangings in a state with a history of lynchings and reportedly accepted a donation from a white supremacist.
As the racism row around Mississippi senator Cindy Hyde-Smith reaches its peak on the day of the final midterm vote, Donald Trump is fighting hard for the divisive candidate.
"We need Cindy Hyde-Smith in Washington," he tweeted on Tuesday morning US time, urging the state to "GO OUT AND VOTE!"
At a Mississippi rally with the Republican senator last night, he told the crowd: "Tomorrow, the voters of this state will cast their ballots in one of the most important Senate elections of your lives - of all of our lives".
But the furore around Ms Hyde-Smith is growing louder as she faces off against Democrat Mike Espy, who could become the first African-American senator for the state since the Civil War if he wins.
Photos posted to Facebook in 2014 show her with Confederate memorabilia and a caption reading, "Mississippi history at its best!"
US media revealed Ms Hyde-Smith attended an all-white "segregational academy" and pushed a resolution in 2007 that praised a Confederate soldier's efforts to "defend his homeland".
Co-sponsoring a resolution to honour 92-year-old Effie Lucille Nicholson Pharr, whose father fought in the Civil War, Ms Hyde-Smith referred to her as "the last known living 'Real Daughter' of the Confederacy living in Mississippi".
In a state scarred by the worst history of lynchings against African-Americans in the US, these revelations have caused horror.
A video from earlier this month showed the GOP incumbent praising a supporter by telling him that if he invited her "to a public hanging, I'd be on the front row".
Mr Trump - no stranger to race rows - defended Ms Hyde-Smith and said she would win "very big" in the special Senate election run-off.
"It was just sort of said in jest," he said. "She's a tremendous woman, and it's a shame that she has to go through this."
Mr Espy called her comments "reprehensible" and said they have "no place in our political discourse".
Ms Hyde-Smith said in a statement: "I used an exaggerated expression of regard, and any attempt to turn this into a negative connotation is ridiculous.
The senator accused Mr Espy of twisting her words.
"No one twisted your comments," he replied: "It came out of your mouth. I don't know what's in your heart, but we all know what came out of your mouth."
He said her comment "just rejuvenated old stereotypes that we don't need anymore".
In yet another videoed gaffe, Ms Hyde-Smith seemed to endorse making it harder for certain demographics to vote, in what she again dismissed as a misconstrued joke.
"They remind me that there's a lot of liberal folks in those other schools who that maybe we don't want to vote," she said. "Maybe we want to make it just a little more difficult. And I think that's a great idea."
This, in a state that pioneered Jim Crow laws to disenfranchise black voters after Reconstruction and the end of slavery in the southern states.
"We've got a senator here talking about public hangings and voter suppression," Mr Espy said at the end of the pair's debate. "Ladies and gentleman, I'm not going back to yesteryear. We are going to move forward."
Polls are open in Mississippi. We need Cindy Hyde-Smith in Washington. GO OUT AND VOTE. Thanks!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 27, 2018
Her spokeswoman said the senator "was making a joke and clearly the video was selectively edited".
But Mr Espy's spokesman said in a statement: "For a state like Mississippi, where voting rights were obtained through sweat and blood, everyone should appreciate that this is not a laughing matter."
Mr Trump entered the fray ahead of the crucial final vote of the midterms as hundreds planned to protest opposite the rally venue.
Mr Espy, a former agriculture secretary under Bill Clinton, has been given a window of hope thanks to the shocking revelations. If he becomes Mississippi's first black senator since 1870, it would be a huge upset in the conservative Deep South and a major coup for the Democrats.
"We do think we have a real shot," Joe Trippi, a consultant working with Mr Espy's campaign, told Politico.
"If he invited me to a public hanging, I'd be on the front row"- Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith says in Tupelo, MS after Colin Hutchinson, cattle rancher, praises her.— Lamar White, Jr. (@LamarWhiteJr) November 11, 2018
Hyde-Smith is in a runoff on Nov 27th against Mike Espy. pic.twitter.com/0a9jOEjokr
Correction: Video WAS taken in Starkville on 11/03, which is what I had initially reported. There was some confusion, because apparently, Sen. Hyde-Smith has a talent for saying things like this often. @GanucheauAdam— Lamar White, Jr. (@LamarWhiteJr) November 15, 2018
Walmart, the country's largest retailer, last Tuesday asked that she return its $2700 donation, saying her comments "clearly do not reflect the values of our company and associates".
And Major League Baseball has now also asked her to return a $7000 campaign donation.
Non-profit civil rights organisation the Mississippi Rising Coalition said: "We cannot and will not let Hyde-Smith and Trump's racist rhetoric go unanswered directly by the people, and we must not allow Hyde-Smith to represent our state any longer."
The special election between the two leading candidates in the state is taking place because no one reached 50 per cent of the vote, with Ms Hyde-Smith on 42 per cent, Mr Espy 40 per cent and Chris McDaniel, a Republican former state legislator with white nationalist sympathies, on 17 per cent.
Ms Hyde-Smith remains the favourite, edging the lead even when another Republican was on the ballot. But her shocking remark has made some rethink their vote.
Mr Espy needs to mobilise the black vote and gain at least a quarter of the white vote in order to beat her, a mammoth task based on voting patterns to date.
One thing may offer a ray of hope for the Democrat.
Alabama last year voted Doug Jones into the senate, in a sensational special election victory propelled by strong Democratic turnout, particularly among African-Americans, and a disliked Republican opponent.
Whether Mr Espy can pull off an equally unlikely upset in Mississippi will depend on how much Ms Hyde-Smith has offended, how locals respond to Mr Trump's endorsement, and how motivated black voters are to turn out and make a statement at the polls.
We will soon learn if people agreed with Mr Espy's powerful words: "Today the crisis is the division in Washington."