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Hyde-Smith criticized for “hanging” remarks during Nov. 2 campaign stop

U.S Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith on Monday declined to elaborate on an off-color remark she made earlier this month in which she joked about attending a public hanging.

Speaking at a news conference at Mississippi Republican Party headquarters, the Brookhaven Republican declined numerous questions for her to elaborate on remarks she made at a Nov. 2 campaign event in Tupelo, in which told supporters if cattle farmer Colin Hutchinson “invited me to a public hanging, I’d be on the front row.” She instead stood by her statement on Sunday, which calls her hanging remark “an exaggerated expression of regard” and says “any attempt to turn this into a negative connotation is ridiculous.”

Political observers and social media users immediately condemned the remarks, made in the state that led the nation in lynchings of black citizens with almost 600 hangings reported during the Jim Crow and Civil Rights eras, according to data maintained by the Tuskegee Institute.

Gov. Phil Bryant finally stepped in to defend Hyde-Smith at Monday’s news conference.

“All of us in public life have said things on occasion that could have been phrased better,” he said. “When you make as many speeches as we do in public life, that does occur. But I know this woman and I know her heart. I knew it when I appointed her. I know it now. She meant no offense by that statement. There was nothing in her heart of ill will.”

Hyde-Smith is facing Democrat Mike Espy, a black man who once served as a cabinet member in the Clinton Administration, in a special election runoff on Nov. 27. The race is to fill the four years remaining on the unexpired term of former U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran, who resigned in early 2018. Hyde-Smith was appointed to the seat by Gov. Phil Bryant.

Danny Blanton, Espy’s campaign spokesman, told media outlets Hyde-Smith’s comments were “reprehensible.”

“They have no place in our political discourse, in Mississippi or our country,” he said. “We need leaders, not dividers, and her words show that she lacks the understanding and judgment to represent the people of our state.”

NAACP President Derrick Johnson, a Mississippi native, said Hyde-Smith’s remarks show a lack of judgment.

“Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith’s shameful remarks prove once again how Trump has created a social and political climate that normalizes hateful and racist rhetoric,” Johnson said Sunday. “Hyde-Smith’s decision to joke about ‘hanging,’ in a state known for its violent and terroristic history toward African Americans, is sick.”

The short video of Hyde-Smith’s remarks was released by Bayou Brief reporter Lamar White Jr., who said he did not record it.