Mississippi Republican Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, who is facing a runoff election against African-American Democrat Mike Epsy, was caught on video joking about attending "a public hanging" at a campaign appearance earlier this month.
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Hyde-Smith is seen in the video standing next to a supporter with his arm around her shoulders. After he praised her, she joked that “if he invited me to a public hanging, I’d be in the front row.
Hyde-Smith was appointed by Gov. Phil Bryant last April to fill the seat vacated by Thad Cochrane, but she had to win a special election Tuesday to serve out the final two years of Cochrane’s term. Hyde-Smith and Epsy received the most votes in a field of four candidates and, since neither received a majority of votes, a runoff was mandated.
In 1987, Epsy was the first African-American elected to Congress since Reconstruction and was later named the first black agriculture secretary by President Bill Clinton.
Hyde-Smith released a statement Sunday afternoon calling criticisms of the comment “ridiculous.”
"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."
The Free-Press reported that between 1877 and 1950, Mississippi had the highest number of lynchings of African-Americans of any state in the country at almost 655 people.
Epsy issued a statement calling Hyde-Smith's 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," he said.
Mississippi voters will decide between Epsy and Hyde-Smith in the runoff election on Nov. 27.
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