Espy vs. Hyde-Smith Results, Latest Polls: Will the Mississippi Senate Runoff Candidates Debate?

While Democrats won the U.S. House of Representatives and Republicans retained control of the U.S. Senate, midterm elections aren’t over just yet.

A key race remains underway in Mississippi between current Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R) and challenger Mike Espy (D). In the coming weeks, the election will gain national attention as the contest heads to a runoff on Nov. 27.

Espy, a former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture for the Clinton administration, is trying to take a long-held Republican seat from Hyde-Smith who was appointed to the U.S. Senate seat by Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant in April 2018. 

With the appointment, Hyde-Smith replaced long-time Sen. Thad Cochran until the special election. Cochran resigned from the post due to health problems, with 32 months remaining in his term. 

The winner of the runoff will serve out the remainder of the term, which will end January 2021. 

In Mississippi, the winner of an election must obtain 50 percent, plus one vote to be declared the winner. During Tuesday’s midterm election, Hyde-Smith claimed 41.5 percent of the popular vote, while Espy earned 40.6 percent. 

Tea Party Republican Chris McDaniel finished with 16.4 percent and challenged his followers to vote for Hyde-Smith in his concession speech on Tuesday night. 

“We now have to unite,” McDaniel said. “Mr. Espy cannot be allowed to win this seat. President Trump wants us to unite, and we will unite. We will back Cindy Hyde-Smith. Now I don’t agree with her. I don’t believe she’s the conservative for this state. But I can tell you unequivocally that Mike Espy has no business being anywhere near the United States Senate. We unite now under Trump’s umbrella. We unite now to fight for his party, and we have to win this battle for the state of our country.”

Regardless of who wins the runoff, the election of either Hyde-Smith or Espy will be historic. 

Espy would be the first African-American U.S. Senator from Mississippi since Reconstruction and the first Democrat to serve since 1982. 

A win for Hyde-Smith would make her the first woman to serve Mississippi in a U.S. Senate seat through an election. She is already in the history books for being the first woman to hold a Mississippi Congressional seat in any capacity. 

Despite the historic nature of the election, the question remains if Hyde-Smith will agree to a debate with Espy in the three weeks remaining before the runoff. 

In October 2018, a planned debate between Mississippi’s candidates in the special election was cancelled by debate sponsors when Espy pulled out. 

At the time, Espy’s campaign cited Hyde-Smith’s lack of commitment to attend the debate. Hyde-Smith’s campaign released a statement citing scheduling issues with the Senate calendar as the reason for her lack of participation.

While McDaniel and fellow candidate Tobey Bartee were willing to go forward with the debate, Mississippi Public Broadcasting released a statement that read, in part, “with only two of the four candidates committed to attend, it has become clear to us that the debate, as planned, would not achieve our initial goals of providing civic engagement to our statewide audience where all candidate views would have been heard."

On Wednesday morning, Espy released a letter to Hyde-Smith, urging the senator to participate in three debates in the three weeks remaining until the runoff election.

“I am following up on my October 16 letter inviting you to a debate,” Espy wrote. “ While I was disappointed that you did not respond to my initial letter, I am hopeful that you will agree: now is the time to debate. Public discourse is important, now more than ever, and Mississippians deserve to hear our views and understand where we differ, whether it’s on health care, education, or job opportunities. The stakes are just too high. …Every voter in the Magnolia State should have the chance to hear from us directly.“

Espy asked for a response from Hyde-Smith by Nov. 9.

Neither Hyde-Smith or her campaign has yet responded to the request. 

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