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Sen. Hyde-Smith: ‘The Only People Interested in Debates Are Reporters and Losing Candidates’

U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, seen here at the Madison County Republican Women Shootout earlier this month, claimed that only "reporters" and "losing candidates" want a debate. Photo courtesy U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith.

U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith signaled today that she does not plan to join her Democratic opponent, former U.S. Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy, for a debate.

“The only people interested in debates are reporters and losing candidates. We’ve already debated. Nothing’s changed,” the Republican senator told WAPT News reporter Scott Simmons, repeating the same answer verbatim two times during an interview today.

Hyde-Smith last joined Espy for a 50-minute debate in a special-election runoff in November 2018, when she was running to be elected to the seat to which then-Gov. Phil Bryant had appointed her after former Sen. Thad Cochran retired earlier that year. 

A debate this year, though, would likely include topics that would not have been discussed in 2018, such as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the year’s ongoing national reckoning on race or the Supreme Court case that could decide the fate of health care for millions next month.

‘She’s Taking This For Granted’

Hyde-Smith’s comments contradict several comments she made in recent weeks, saying she would be willing to debate.

Simmons reported today that Hyde-Smith agreed to speak to him at the Mississippi State Capitol this morning to offer her response to criticisms Espy leveled this morning over the fact that she has not agreed to debate. 

“The people of Mississippi—she’s disrespecting them. … She’s taking this for granted,” the Associated Press reported Espy saying at a press conference in Jackson this morning. “She’s sending signals that she does not have to earn their vote.”

When the WAPT reporter tried to ask Hyde-Smith additional questions this morning, including one about the U.S. Supreme Court vacancy that President Donald Trump has nominated Amy Coney Barrett to fill, the senator walked away.

“That’s it,” she said.

Incumbents Often Reject Debates

When U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died last month, the Espy campaign told the Mississippi Free Press that it broke records, raising more than $300,000 on consecutive days during the weekend that followed her death on Friday, Sept. 16.

Elected Mississippi incumbents often decline to debate challengers in re-election years. Before Hyde-Smith’s 2018 debate, the last time a sitting U.S. senator in the state debated a challenger was in 2008, when Sen. Roger Wicker, a Republican, debated Democrat Ronnie Musgrove, who served as Mississippi’s governor from 2000 to 2004. 

Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Mike Espy raised more than $1 million during the week following U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death. Photo by Ashton Pittman

Former Gov. Haley Barbour appointed Wicker in 2007 to fill the Senate seat the former U.S. Senate majority leader, Sen. Trent Lott, had suddenly vacated. Wicker’s debate with his Democratic opponent came at a time when he, like Hyde-Smith later, was running to win a special election to fill the remainder of his predecessor’s term. Wicker has not debated a challenger since, and rejected calls for a debate from his 2018 Democratic challenger, then Mississippi House Minority Leader David Baria.

Hyde-Smith beat Espy in 2018, but he won 46% of the vote and came closer to winning the U.S. Senate seat in Mississippi than any Democrat since 1982.

Voting Information

Mississippi voters may vote absentee in-person at their local circuit clerk’s office until 5 p.m. on Oct. 31. Those voting by mail have until Election Day, Nov. 3, to mail their ballot. The ballot must be postmarked by Nov. 3 and arrive within five days of the election in order for their vote to count.

Polls are open on Election Day, Nov. 3, from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. More information on voting is available at sos.ms.gov/vote.

Though not required, public-health experts recommend that voters wear a mask and, if available, a face shield before voting for protection during the pandemic.

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