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US Senate candidates in Mississippi clash in rematch of 2018

(AP) — Democrat Mike Espy is trying unseat Republican Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith in Mississippi by labeling her “Confederate Cindy” and saying she’s out of touch with voters in a diverse state that has tried to move beyond its racist history. If elected, he would be Mississippi’s first Black U.S. senator since Reconstruction.
Hyde-Smith, campaigning as an acolyte of President Donald Trump, said Espy is “the most liberal candidate Mississippi has ever had to run for the U.S. Senate.”
“Mississippi is Trump country, and they are sure turning out for him. I’m thrilled that we are on the same ballot,” Hyde-Smith said Tuesday at her campaign office in Jackson. “When they vote for Donald Trump, they’re probably going to vote for Cindy Hyde-Smith.”
Espy said he represents momentum for change in Mississippi while Hyde-Smith is stuck in the past.
“I want to move forward into a new day, a modern day, a day where I can help lead this state into the third decade of the 21st Century,” Espy said at a polling place in Ridgeland.
This year’s race is a rematch of a 2018 special election, held after Hyde-Smith was appointed to temporarily succeed longtime Republican Sen. Thad Cochran when he retired because of poor health. She defeated Espy in a runoff, and has been serving the final two years of Cochrane’s term.
Hyde-Smith, 61, is a former state agriculture commissioner and the only woman to have represented Mississippi in the U.S. 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 an attorney who served six years in the House before becoming U.S. agriculture secretary in 1993 under President Bill Clinton.
Mississippi has a 38% Black population. For Espy to win, he needs a strong turnout among Black voters loyal to the Democratic party and from white voters disenchanted with the Trump administration.
Republican-dominated Mississippi last elected a Democrat to the Senate in 1982. Trump has endorsed Hyde-Smith and the Democratic presidential nominee, former Vice President Joe Biden, has endorsed Espy.
The Espy campaign has referred to “Confederate Cindy” in fundraising appeals to remind people about photos from a 2014 Facebook post by Hyde-Smith that showed her visiting the last home of Confederate president Jefferson Davis, which is on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Hyde-Smith wrote “Mississippi history at its best!” In one photo, she 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.
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Associated Press writer Janet McConnaughey contributed to this report from Picayune, Miss. Follow Emily Wagster Pettus on Twitter at http://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus.
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Find AP’s full election coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/election-2020.