JACKSON, Miss. — A Democrat who tried to unseat Republican U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith in Mississippi last year is seeking money to challenge her again in 2020.
Mike Espy said in a fundraising appeal Thursday that he can “work with others across party lines and labels.” Espy served in the U.S. House before then-President Bill Clinton named him agriculture secretary in the mid-1990s.
Republican Gov. Phil Bryant appointed Hyde-Smith to the Senate in early 2018 when longtime Republican Thad Cochran retired. In the November special election to fill the final two years of the six-year term, Hyde-Smith won 54% to Espy’s 46%. She ran as an ally of President Donald Trump, and he traveled to Mississippi to campaign for her.
Days after the election, Espy created a committee to run in 2020.
Republicans will try to maintain control of the Senate in 2020. Of the 34 seats up for election next year, 22 are currently held by Republicans and 12 by Democrats.
Espy, who is African American, criticized Hyde-Smith, who is white, for praising a supporter during the 2018 campaign by saying she’d attend a “public hanging” if the supporter invited her. A video at another event showed her talking about “liberal folks” and making it “just a little more difficult” for them to vote.
“After the intemperate statements she made about public hangings and voter suppression that went viral last October and November, many of the large companies that donated to her campaign asked for their money back,” Espy said in the fundraising letter Thursday. “In their own words: ‘what she said did not reflect the values’ of those companies.”
In the past several months, Hyde-Smith has announced federal grants for highways and bridges in Mississippi, has joined other Republicans and some Democrats in calling for completion of a massive pump project to drain water from the Mississippi Delta and has praised Trump for an executive order putting more sanctions on Iran. Her campaign spokesman, Justin Brassell, said Thursday that the senator welcomes “competition of ideas” from Espy.
“Sen. Hyde-Smith’s agenda and accomplishments are much more in line with Mississippi voters than the radical leftist agenda of national Democrats,” Brassell said. “Sen. Hyde-Smith has accomplished a lot for our state by working well with the President and her Senate colleagues, and we look forward to discussing her record with voters.”
Hyde-Smith filed a 2020 statement of candidacy in June, and finance records show she has nearly $462,000 in her campaign fund and has debts of about $196,000. Her campaign refunded $10,205 in contributions.
Espy reports having nearly $163,000 in his campaign fund , with no debts.
Mississippi last had a Democrat in the U.S. Senate in 1989, when John C. Stennis retired after serving for decades.