The Governor of Mississippi is defending the state’s Republican senator who came under fire for claiming that she’d willingly be in the front row of a “public hanging” if invited.

Republican Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith caused an uproar recently when she thanked a supporter by saying “if he invited me to a public hanging, I’d be on the front row.” She is currently in a runoff race against her African American opponent, Democrat Mike Espy, set for later this month. Espy would become Mississippi’s first African American senator since Reconstruction if he wins the race.

But despite the backlash from her comment, Hyde-Smith refused to touch the subject at a recent press conference with Governor Phil Bryant.

But the governor, who appointed Hyde-Smith to the Senate earlier this year, had no problem defending her  by using the topic of abortions as a way to side-step the controversy.

“I know this woman and I know her heart,” he told reporters. “I knew it when I appointed her and I know it now. She meant no offense by that statement. There was nothing in her heart of ill will.”

He went on to blame the media and social media for how Hyde-Smith’s controversy had played out, adding that the state was sensitive to race relations. But then the conversation took a strange turn.

“Today I talked about the genocide of over 20 million African Americans,” he said. “See, in my heart, I am confused about where the outrage is at about 20 million African American children that have been aborted. No one wants to say anything about that. No one wants to talk about that.”

In March, Bryant signed the nation’s most restrictive anti-choice bill, which outlaws the procedure after 15 weeks of gestation.

The runoff election will take place on Nov. 27.

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