November 23, 2020

Cindy Hyde-Smith holds off Espy again to retain U.S. Senate seat

Republican U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith has been reelected in Mississippi, defeating Democrat Mike Espy in a repeat of a 2018 special election.

Hyde-Smith, 61, presented herself as a loyalist to President Donald Trump while Espy said Republican policies have failed to help many Mississippians, particularly those who need health care.

Hyde-Smith is the only woman to have represented Mississippi in the House or Senate. She did not accept debate invitations this year, drawing criticism from Espy. Hyde-Smith’s campaign tweeted “100 Accomplishments in 100 days,” emphasizing her support of agriculture, efforts to bring federal money to the state and opposition to abortion.

Espy, 66, is a former U.S. agriculture secretary and was trying to become the state’s first Black senator since Reconstruction.

Jimmy L. Edwards, a Libertarian candidate was also in the Senate race and ran a low-budget campaign.

Republican-dominated Mississippi last elected a Democrat in the Senate in 1982. The state has a 38% Black population. For Espy to win, he needed a strong turnout among Black voters loyal to the Democratic party and from white voters disenchanted with the Trump administration.

In fundraising appeals, the Espy campaign referred to Hyde-Smith as “Confederate Cindy” to remind people about photos that surfaced during the 2018 race. They came from a 2014 Facebook post by Hyde-Smith and showed her visiting the last home of Confederate president Jefferson Davis, which is on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Hyde-Smith wrote that it was “Mississippi history at its best!” In one photo, Hyde-Smith held a firearm and wore a cap like those used by Confederate soldiers.

Also during the 2018 race, a video showed Hyde-Smith complimenting a supporter by saying she would attend a “public hanging” if the man invited her, prompting Espy and others to say she was minimizing Mississippi’s history of lynchings.

Sheila Jarrell of Picayune, who works part-time in a home furnishings gift shop, said Tuesday that she voted for Trump and Hyde-Smith. Jarrell, 65, who is white, said she had never heard about the senator’s public hanging comment.

“But I do know that a lot of things are taken out of context,” Jarrell said. “And I don’t believe that anybody in their right mind would say something like that.”

Jarrell said she likes that Hyde-Smith is loyal to Trump and that the president endorsed the senator.

“She seems like she’s a good candidate, so I went along with whatever Trump recommended,” Jarrell said.

Harold Littles, 61, a youth pastor and retired federal worker from Picayune, said he voted for Biden and Espy. Littles said Espy “has good ideas” about education and improving Mississippi and its economy.

“I don’t have anything about Ms. Smith, but she hasn’t proven during her short tenure … that she cares as much about the state of Mississippi as private interests,” Littles said.

Asked about Hyde-Smith’s “public hanging” comment, Littles, who is Black, said: “If you know about Mississippi, you know that hangings, lynchings and mobs” are part of its history.

“I think Mike is trying to move from that,” Littles said.

Jimmy L. Edwards, a Libertarian candidate, also is in this year’s Senate race but has spent little to campaign.