A video published on Sunday shows Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.) joking about a "public hanging," a comment she says is being taken out of context.
Hyde-Smith faces Democratic former congressman and agriculture secretary Mike Espy, who is black, in a Nov. 27 runoff. In the video, shot Nov. 2 in Tupelo, a cattle rancher introduces Hyde-Smith to a small group of people, and she says, "If he invited me to a public hanging, I'd be on the front row." In a statement, Hyde-Smith said she "referred to accepting an invitation to a speaking engagement. In referencing the one who invited me, I used an exaggerated expression of regard, and any attempt to turn this into a negative connotation is ridiculous."
Espy's campaign spokesman disagreed, calling her comments "reprehensible. They have no place in our political discourse, in Mississippi, or our country. We need leaders, not dividers, and her words show that she lacks the understanding and judgment to represent the people of our state." The NAACP says that between 1882 and 1968, 581 lynchings took place in Mississippi, the most of any state.
The video was posted on social media Sunday by the publisher of the Louisiana news site The Bayou Brief, who told The Associated Press he received the video Saturday night from a "reliable, trusted source" who got the footage directly from the person who filmed it. Hyde-Smith was appointed by Gov. Phil Bryant (R) earlier this year after longtime Republican Sen. Thad Cochran retired due to health issues. If Espy wins, he'll be the first black person since Reconstruction to represent Mississippi in the U.S. Senate, and if she is victorious, Hyde-Smith will be the first woman elected to the U.S. Senate from the state.