Walmart asks Mississippi’s Hyde-Smith to return donation after ‘public hanging’ comment

Cindy Hyde-Smith

Walmart is pulling its support for Republican Mississippi Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith and asked for her campaign on Tuesday to return its donations.

The decision by the world’s largest retailer is the latest sign of public backlash against Hyde-Smith over her remarks about attending a “public hanging.”

“Sen. Hyde-Smith’s recent comments clearly do not reflect the values of our company and associates,” Walmart said through its Twitter account. “As a result, we are withdrawing our support and requesting a refund of all campaign donations.”

The tweet came in response to a post from actress Debra Messing, who linked to a story about the company’s contributions to Hyde-Smith’s campaign. A recent filing with the Federal Election Commission showed Wal-Mart had given Hyde-Smith’s campaign $2,000.

Walmart joins several other companies to demand Hyde-Smith return donations after she was caught on tape saying she would attend a “public hanging” at the invitation of a supporter. Not long after, another video surfaced in which Hyde-Smith can be heard suggesting it would be “a great idea” to suppress the student vote.

Hyde-Smith’s campaign defended the comments about voting as a joke and in a statement called her hanging remark “an exaggerated expression of regard” which had been misinterpreted.

AT&T and Pfizer also cut support for Hyde-Smith this week and requested a refund of their contributions. (CNN is a unit of AT&T’s WarnerMedia.)

It is not clear whether Hyde-Smith has agreed to recoup the donations. Her campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Hyde-Smith is in a runoff to retain the Senate seat she was appointed to in March by Gov. Phil Bryant. Her Democratic opponent, Mike Espy, a former congressman and agriculture secretary, is vying to become the state’s first African-American senator since Reconstruction. Hyde-Smith appeared to be an overwhelming favorite in their contest, which is scheduled for November 27, before her comments sparked national outrage.

In a new ad released on Tuesday, Espy’s campaign warned voters that electing Hyde-Smith would reinforce “the stereotypes that hurt our state.”

“We can’t afford a senator who embarrasses us and reinforces the stereotypes we’ve worked so hard to overcome,” a narrators says. “We’re better than this, Mississippi — and that’s no joke.”

President Donald Trump came to Hyde-Smith’s defense on Tuesday, telling reporters, “She made a statement, which I know that she feels very badly about it. And it was just sort of said in jest. She’s a tremendous woman. And it’s a shame that she has to go through this. I think she’s going to do very well.”

Trump is scheduled to lead a pair of rallies, in Biloxi and Tupelo, for Hyde-Smith on the day before the election.

Some Democrats now believe he is within striking distance of flipping the seat in a deep-red state that Trump won by nearly 20 percentage points in 2016.

Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey and Kamala Harris of California have campaigned for Espy in Mississippi in recent days. On Monday, former Vice President Joe Biden announced his endorsement of Espy, while others, like Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, have sent out fundraising emails.

Google, which gave Hyde-Smith $5,000, backed away from Hyde-Smith last week.

“This contribution was made on Nov. 2 before Sen. Hyde-Smith’s (hanging) remarks became public on Nov. 11,” the company said in a statement. “While we support candidates who promote pro-growth policies for business and technology, we do not condone these remarks and would have not made such a contribution had we known about them.”

Union Pacific and Boston Scientific also defended their initial decisions to give, saying on social media they made their donations before the “public hanging” video become public, but requested they be returned.

On Monday, Hyde-Smith returned a $2,700 donation from a Seattle businessman, Peter Zieve, whose company, Electroimpact, was sued by Washington state for discriminating against Muslims.

“That donation was made online, and we have returned it,” Hyde-Smith campaign spokeswoman Melissa Scallan said in an email.