Cindy Hyde-Smith defeated Democrat Mike Espy in Tuesday’s special run-off election to fulfill the seat left vacant by retired Sen. Thad Cochran’s current term through 2020, after being appointed to replace him earlier this year.

Hyde-Smith is the first woman to be elected to represent Mississippi in the Senate. It was an unimpressive win for the Republican, with the vote count nearly finished, she led Espy by 8 points, after Donald Trump won Mississippi by 18 in 2016.

She survived a flood of negative stories through the final weeks of the campaign, in which Hyde-Smith joked about public hangings in a state plagued by lynchings last century and her attendance of a white segregationist school in her youth was revealed.

Her win secures Senate Republicans a 53-seat majority for the next two years. If history is any guide, the next two years could see extreme gridlock on Capitol Hill, with even routine spending bills becoming a vicious fight between the two chambers. Senate Republicans, by holding on to the majority, will focus on what they’ve been doing for the past few months: confirming as many federal judges as possible.

Hyde-Smith didn’t make it easy on herself, even in a deep-red state that’s still fond of President Donald Trump. She attempted to return the praise of a cattle rancher by saying she’d love to attend a public hanging with him. She joked about voter suppression while campaigning to represent a state that pioneered Jim Crow laws.

Mr. Espy referred to the state’s history and its racial fault lines as he addressed supporters at the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum less than three hours after the polls closed. “She has my prayers as she goes to Washington to unite a very divided Mississippi,” he said.