The black, Democratic opponent of Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS) has denounced the senator’s “public hanging” joke as “reprehensible.”
In a statement to the Washington Post on Sunday, candidate Mike Espy — who faces Hyde-Smith in a runoff election later this month to determine who will serve for the remainder of former Sen. Thad Cochran’s term — said the comment had “no place” in politics, especially in Mississippi, which has a history of public lynchings of African American people.
“They have no place in our political discourse, in Mississippi, or our country,” he said. “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 also condemned Hyde-Smith’s comments, calling a joke about the “barbaric act” “sick.”
“Any politician seeking to serve as a national voice of the people of Mississippi should know better,” NAACP President Derrick Johnson told the Post in a statement Sunday.
Hyde-Smith herself released a statement in her defense, claiming she was speaking in exaggerations when she said that if the cattle rancher she was campaigning with had “invited me to a public hanging, I’d be on the front row.”
“In a comment on Nov. 2, I referred to accepting an invitation to a speaking engagement,” she said. “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.”
Neither Espy nor Hyde-Smith, who was appointed to serve in Cochran’s seat when he stepped down for health reasons, were able to clinch 50 percent of the vote during the special election on Nov. 6, so a runoff will be held on Nov. 27.