With debate official, Hyde-Smith’s ‘public hanging’ comments renew interest in runoff

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David Goldman, Associated PressA podium stands on stage as a worker cleans lint off the background for a debate.
Recent comments by Republican interim U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith appear to have intensified interest in her Nov. 27 runoff with Democrat Mike Espy and have placed added significance on a debate scheduled for a week before the election.
“It is a gift to Espy. We will have to see what he can make of it. Will it stir turnout in the African American community? ” asked Marty Wiseman, a political science instructor at Mississippi State University and former director of the school’s Stennis Institute of Government.
A video surfaced over the weekend of Hyde-Smith, speaking in Tupelo before the Nov. 6 first election, describing her fondness for one of her supporters by saying of one man, “if he invited me to a public hanging, I’d be on the front row.”
In Mississippi, with a dark past of lynchings of African Americans by white mobs, those comments were met with wide consternation.
Hyde-Smith downplayed the comments, saying “any attempt to turn this into a negative connotation is ridiculous.”
During the upcoming debate, sponsored by Farm Bureau and scheduled to air on NBC television stations throughout the state, Wiseman said panelists are likely to ask about the comments again and Hyde-Smith will be forced to expand on her statement.
Expanding on her original statement is something she would not do Monday during a news conference with Gov. Phil Bryant where she was endorsed by the National Right to Life organization. At the news conference she was asked about the comments several times but refused to expand on her original comments. Bryant, who appointed her to the Senate in April after long-time Sen. Thad Cochran resigned for health reasons, came to her defense, saying he knew “her heart” and that she