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Debates unlikely in special US Senate race in Mississippi

JACKSON (AP) — Mississippi voters are unlikely to see their state’s appointed U.S. senator in a face-to-face debate with her three challengers before next month’s special election to fill the end of a six-year term.

The only two scheduled campaign debates are falling apart because Republican Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith said she would not participate if she has to be at work in Washington and Democratic challenger Mike Espy said he would not debate without her there. That left Republican Chris McDaniel and Democrat Tobey Bernard Bartee.

Sponsors of both debates backed out, saying they wanted to give people a chance to compare all the candidates.

Early this week, Millsaps College and Mississippi Public Broadcasting canceled a debate that had been scheduled for Thursday.

On Friday, Clarion Ledger editor Sam Hall announced cancellation of the Oct. 23 debate the newspaper was sponsoring with WLBT-TV, the League of Woman Voters and the Mississippi Bar Association. Asked whether the event will happen if Hyde-Smith and Espy agree to participate, Hall said: “Anything’s possible.”

Republican Gov. Phil Bryant appointed Hyde-Smith, who was in her second term as state agriculture commissioner, to temporarily succeed longtime Republican Sen. Thad Cochran when the 80-year-old lawmaker retired in April.

Party labels will not appear on the Nov. 6 ballot for the special election, although candidates are telling voters their party affiliation. If nobody receives a majority in the Nov. 6 special election, the top two will go to a Nov. 27 runoff. The winner will serve the final two years of the term Cochran started.

Espy said Friday that he is willing to debate, even on short notice, if Hyde-Smith participates.

“It’s got to be a robust debate with the major candidates,” said Espy, a former U.S. House member and former U.S. agriculture secretary.

McDaniel narrowly lost a Republican primary to Cochran in 2014 and is now in his third term as a state senator. He held a live event Thursday night on Facebook to take questions from people.

“Any politician who dares to run for an office, I believe they all should all stand in front of the people and debate,” McDaniel said. “Unfortunately, we don’t have that in this state because the establishment cannot defend their candidates.”

Hyde-Smith attended a campaign rally Tuesday night in Southaven with President Donald Trump, who has endorsed her. On Friday, she was in Washington and voted to advance Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination to the full Senate for a later vote. She said in a statement that she will vote to confirm him.

“The excellent impression Judge Kavanaugh made when we met only grew stronger after I reviewed his record, and followed a confirmation process that can only be described as unnecessarily ugly,” Hyde-Smith said.

Bartee, a former military intelligence officer, is running a low-budget campaign.