Senator open to debate in potential Mississippi runoff

Published 2:40 pm Thursday, October 25, 2018

A Mississippi Republican appointed to the U.S. Senate says she would not mind debating a Democratic challenger if they get into a runoff for the special election.

Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith told The Greenwood Commonwealth on Wednesday that she thinks Mike Espy “would be very civil.”

Republican Gov. Phil Bryant appointed Hyde-Smith to temporarily succeed Republican Sen. Thad Cochran, who resigned in April.

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She has declined to debate all three challengers before the Nov. 6 election. They are Espy, who’s a former congressman and former U.S. agriculture secretary; Chris McDaniel, who’s a Republican state senator with tea party support; and Tobey Bernard Bartee, a Democrat who is a former military intelligence officer.

Party labels will not appear on the ballot. If nobody wins a majority, the top two advance to a Nov. 27 runoff. The winner will serve the final two years of a six-year term Cochran started.

Hyde-Smith served 11 years as a Democrat in the Mississippi Senate before switching parties in 2010 and winning statewide races for agriculture commissioner as a Republican in 2011 and 2015. She has been endorsed in the Senate race by President Donald Trump.

Hyde-Smith said voters would see “clear” ideological differences between her and Espy.

“I am very conservative. I am not liberal at all,” Hyde-Smith told the newspaper. “I am there to support the Republican agenda. I’m not there to support the Chuck Schumer agenda, like Mike Espy would be.”

Schumer, of New York, is the Senate Democratic leader. Espy has said repeatedly in campaign appearances that although he is a Democrat, he would not always follow party leaders.

“I’ll be a small I senator, someone who is independent and someone who reaches across the chasm to work with anyone — Republicans, independents, other Democrats,” Espy said during a Sept. 22 event in Jackson. “I just don’t care where the idea comes from. I’m a Democrat, but I’m a Mississippian first. So, the only decision I have to make, wherever the idea emanates from — is it good for Mississippi or is it not good for Mississippi?”

McDaniel, who nearly defeated Cochran in a hard-fought 2014 Republican primary, said Wednesday during a campaign appearance in Jackson that Hyde-Smith and Espy are “lifetime Democrats.”

“We know their policies have been inclined toward big government their entire lives,” McDaniel said. “To the extent that they stand in front of the people of this state, they can’t hide behind those commercials any longer. They can’t hide behind consultants any longer. That’s why debates are so important.”

An NBC News/Marist poll released Tuesday shows the special election has a strong chance of going to a runoff. It showed Hyde-Smith with support from 38 percent of likely voters, Espy with 29 percent, McDaniel with 15 percent and Bartee with 2 percent. Fifteen percent said they’re undecided. The poll was conducted Oct. 13-18 and included 511 likely voters in Mississippi. The margin of error is listed as plus or minus 6.1 percentage points.