PHILADELPHIA, Miss.—"Tough crowd," Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant muttered to himself, just before taking the stage at the Neshoba County Fair in Philadelphia, Miss., on Thursday.
He had just watched the state's two incumbent U.S. Senators—Republicans Cindy Hyde-Smith and Roger Wicker—speak before a hostile, jeering crowd that included dozens of supporters for conservative State Sen. Chris McDaniel, who is running to unseat Hyde-Smith in November's elections.
"I'm darn glad to say I appointed a United States senator that's a rancher and not a lawyer, and she's doing one hell of a job," Bryant said during his speech, defending his appointment of Hyde-Smith, while prodding McDaniel, who has a law practice in Laurel.
Twenty minutes earlier, boos and heckling had overwhelmed Hyde-Smith's speech, lasting for the duration of her speech. "Gun grabber," one shouted when she spoke of her NRA membership. "You support Planned Parenthood," another shouted when she spoke of her opposition to abortion. When she praised her predecessor, Cochran, for having done "so many favors for us over the years," they laughed.
"Haters are just gonna hate," Hyde-Smith said to the Jackson Free Press as she stepped off the stage. "That's what they do."
'She Has a Democratic History'
Hyde-Smith's reception was markedly different from that of her and McDaniel's Democratic opponent, former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Mike Espy. Espy received polite applause throughout his speech. In it, Espy emphasized Mississippi unity, while raising issues like improving rural access to broadband and "building a Mississippi economy that doesn't force our children to choose a new job hundreds of miles away."
The discrepancy between the crowd's response to Espy and Hyde-Smith was about more than "haters gonna hate," McDaniel supporter, Carol McCarty of Madison said, "Cindy Hyde-Smith will not debate, and Senator Espy has said he will."
She said if the race were to end in a runoff between