In a campaign appearance in Starkville, Mississippi, earlier this month, Hyde-Smith told a group that “there’s a lot of liberal folks in those other schools who that maybe we don’t want to vote. Maybe we want to make it just a little more difficult. And I think that’s a great idea.”
A video surfaced Thursday of Republican Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith of Mississippi saying it might be a “huge idea” to make it harder for some people to vote, and her campaign quickly responded that she was “just” joking.
Melissa Scallan, a spokeswoman for Hyde-Smith’s campaign, said in a statement shortly after the video was posted that the senator “obviously” was “making a joke and clearly the video was selectively edited.”
Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith’s suggestion that Mississippi should make it harder for “liberal folks” to vote was “obviously… a joke,” the senator’s campaign team wrote on Twitter on Thursday, pushing back against critics who argue she was advocating for voter suppression.
Her comments were met with laughter by the group.
Hyde-Smith is in a runoff election with Democrat Mike Espy, a former agriculture secretary during the Clinton administration, to serve the remaining two years of former Sen. Thad Cochran’s term. Cochran retired earlier this year, citing health reasons, and was replaced by Hyde-Smith, who was appointed by Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant.
Democrats have accused Republicans across the country of attempting to suppress the voting rights of minority groups under the guise of curbing voter fraud, but the issue is much more fraught in the South, which has a history of racial tension.
Espy, a former congressman who would be the first black senator from Mississippi in over a century, called Hyde-Smith a “walking stereotype who embarrasses our state.”
Danny Blanton, a spokesman for Espy’s campaign, called Hyde-Smith a “walking stereotype who embarrasses our state.”
Espy did not mince words in a statement on Hyde-Smith’s remarks, noting the historical context of the senator’s message. “For a state like Mississippi, where voting rights were obtained through sweat and blood, everyone should appreciate that this is not a laughing matter,” he said.
Hyde-Smith responded to Espy on Twitter, asking: “It’s ok to still have a sense of humor in America isn’t it?”
Her latest remarks to surface are the second controversy she’s faced this week. The same Twitter user, a local publisher, posted a video of Hyde-Smith over the weekend in which she says with a smile that if a supporter she was campaigning with invited her to a “public hanging,” she’d “be on the front row.”
Her use of the phrase was ill-received given Mississippi’s dark history involving racial discrimination and lynchings, but Hyde-Smith brushed it off as an “exaggerated expression of regard” and said that it was “ridiculous” to have given the comments a negative connotation.
Despite President Donald Trump carrying the deep-red Mississippi by 18 points in the 2016 election, the race between Hyde-Smith and Espy has gotten tight enough that both Republicans and Democrats are placing ad buys in the state, and Trump himself is trying to boost Hyde-Smith’s chances.
The episode comes after that first controversial video was posted to Twitter on Sunday. In that video, Hyde-Smith is heard saying during a campaign stop in Tupelo on Nov. 2 that if the man who was next to her, later identified as a local rancher, “invited me to a public hanging, I’d be on the front row.”