3 agree to US Senate debate, but Hyde-Smith is uncommitted


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JACKSON, Miss. — All three challengers are accepting two debate invitations for a U.S. Senate race in Mississippi, their campaigns said Wednesday. But it’s unclear if Republican incumbent Cindy Hyde-Smith will take part.

“It really is all going to depend on her schedule in D.C.,” Hyde-Smith campaign spokeswoman Melissa Scallan told The Associated Press.

One debate is Oct. 4 at Millsaps College. It is sponsored by Millsaps and Mississippi Public Broadcasting.

The other debate is Oct. 23 at the Mississippi College School of Law in Jackson. It is sponsored by the Clarion Ledger, the League of Women Voters of Mississippi, the Mississippi Bar Association and WLBT-TV.

Gov. Phil Bryant appointed Hyde-Smith to serve temporarily when longtime Republican U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran retired in April.

The winner of a November special election will serve the final two years of the six-year term that Cochran started. Hyde-Smith faces former military intelligence officer Tobey Bartee, former U.S. Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy and state Sen. Chris McDaniel.

Party labels won’t appear on the special election ballot, but Hyde-Smith and McDaniel are Republicans and Espy and Bartee are Democrats. There are no party primaries for the special election. If no candidate wins a majority on Nov. 6, the top two advance to a runoff Nov. 27.

Republicans are trying to maintain their slim majority in the Senate, and President Donald Trump tweeted Aug. 23 that he’s giving his “complete and total Endorsement” to Hyde-Smith. He won 58 percent of the vote in Mississippi in 2016.

Hyde-Smith served 11 years in the state Senate as a Democrat before switching to the GOP in late 2010. She won statewide races for agriculture commissioner as a Republican in 2011 and 2015. She was the first woman to hold that job, just as she is the first woman to represent Mississippi in Congress.

McDaniel was elected to the state Senate in 2007. He challenged Cochran in 2014, losing in a bitter Republican primary runoff.

Espy in 1986 became the first African-American in the 20th century to win a U.S. House seat in Mississippi. He left Congress in 1993 when President Bill Clinton chose him to be agriculture secretary.

Bartee is making his first run for public office.

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