Tuesday’s special election in Mississippi appears tighter than initially expected thanks to controversial remarks from Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.), prompting conservative super PACs to open up their pocketbooks.

Conservative outside groups have spent more than $3.2 million in opposition to Democratic challenger Mike Espy since Nov. 11, when Hyde-Smith’s joke about attending a public hanging went viral.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee is the biggest spender in that time frame, shelling out more than $1.6 million in media buys. The Senate Leadership Fund added nearly $1.2 million in media buys against Espy.

Hyde-Smith’s “public hanging” remark appeared to provide a slim path to victory for Espy, a former U.S. agriculture secretary and congressman, in the deep red state. But in the following weeks, outside spending has been dominated by conservative groups that want to avoid a repeat of Roy Moore’s loss in Alabama.

Senate Majority PAC has done most of the heavy lifting for Democrats, accounting for all of the $873,792 in media buys opposing Hyde-Smith since Nov. 11. Hyde-Smith was aided by nearly $500,000 in outside spending through the last two weeks, while Espy is supported by less than $330,000.

As of Nov. 7, Hyde-Smith reported raising more than $3.5 million, compared to $2.4 million for Espy.

Hyde-Smith’s remark didn’t initially appear to hurt her fundraising, but several of her donors recently asked Hyde-Smith to return their contributions, including Walmart, Pfizer and Major League Baseball.

Though the millions in outside spending from conservative groups indicate the race is close, the most recent poll — coming from a conservative pollster — has Hyde-Smith leading by 10 points.

Hyde-Smith garnered 41.4 percent of the vote during the general election, while Espy got 40.7 and Chris McDaniel — a second Republican in the race — came in third with 16.5 percent.

President Donald Trump is making several trips to Mississippi to support Hyde-Smith, while Democratic presidential hopefuls Cory Booker and Kamala Harris recently traveled the Magnolia State to pump up Espy.

Karl Evers-Hillstrom writes for Open Secrets, from where this article is adapted.

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