RECAP: Mississippi’s Senatorial Debate with Cindy Hyde-Smith and Mike Espy

RECAP: Mississippi’s Senatorial Debate with Cindy Hyde-Smith and Mike Espy

JACKSON, MS (WLOX) - The Mississippi Senatorial Debate between Republican U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith and her Democratic challenger Mike Espy wrapped up around 8 p.m. Tuesday night just one week from the Nov. 27 runoff elections.

This race has gained national attention as it is currently the last unresolved U.S. Senate election.

Mike Espy began the debate with his opening statement by thanking viewers, moderators, even opponent Hyde-Smith. But he had a clear message.

“My approach is Mississippi first. That means Mississippi over party. Mississippi over person, and I don’t care how powerful that person might be,” he said.

Hyde-Smith utilized her opening statement to let voters know about President Trump’s upcoming visits to Mississippi and also how different her and her opponent are.

“Tonight, you’re going to hear the clear differences... It’s not about me. It’s about you. Our conservative values are on the ballot next Tuesday. You know, I will stand up and protect our conservative values,” she said.

Republican Cindy Hyde-Smith and Democrat Mike Espy discussed issues affecting voters at Tuesday night's debate.
Republican Cindy Hyde-Smith and Democrat Mike Espy discussed issues affecting voters at Tuesday night's debate.

In a series of questions, the candidates were asked about

  • Mississippi farmers coping with tariffs
  • Immigration reform and border security
  • Job security regarding millennials leaving the state
  • A single payer health care system
  • Accusations of Espy accepting money in gifts
  • 2nd Amendment rights and gun control
  • Mississippi’s education system, criminal justice reform
  • Accessibility to constituents and local media
  • The Affordable Health Care Act
  • A federal gas tax
  • A campaign finance reform
  • Building bridges between the 2 parties

Hyde-Smith was asked about her public hanging comment that went viral on social media.

She was asked, “You released a statement saying any attempt to turn that into a negative connotation is ridiculous. What is the positive connotation? Are you willing to explain/apologize tonight?”

Hyde-Smith explained, “For anyone that was offended by my comments, I certainly apologize. There was no ill will, no intent whatsoever in my statements". She said she has worked with Mississippians for 20 years and has “always tried to help everyone”.

Cindy Hyde-Smith (R)
Cindy Hyde-Smith (R) (Source: Knowles, Lindsay)

Hyde-Smith also said, " I also recognize that this comment was twisted, and it was turned into a weapon to be used against me, a political weapon used for nothing but personal and political gain by my opponent."

In which Espy replied, “Well no one twisted your comments because your comments were live. You know, it came out of your mouth. I don’t know what’s in your heart, but we all know what came out of your mouth".

Another big topic that came up in the debate was accusations that Espy accepted thousands of dollars in gifts while he was the Secretary of Agriculture.

Mike Espy (D)
Mike Espy (D) (Source: Knowles, Lindsay)

He responded, “Those allegations against me were unfair. I said at the very beginning that these things were not true... I was completely exonerated by a jury”. Espy said former Supreme Court Justice Scalia said the prosecution shouldn’t have happened.

Hyde-Smith says Espy received $750,000 from “a foreign dictator on trial right now for crimes against humanity” saying many Mississippians can’t relate to that kind of money.

In closing arguments, Hyde-Smith again promotes two upcoming visits where President Trump will be visiting Mississippi to campaign on her behalf even reading the URL of where tickets can be purchased.

“You’ve heard two very clearly different, opposite differences from me and my opponent. We have talked about the issues this country is facing". Hyde-Smith ends with the job is less about her and more about what she will stand up for.

The midterm runoff for the senatorial seat is Nov. 27.
The midterm runoff for the senatorial seat is Nov. 27. (Source: Photo WLOX)

This was the only chance to see Espy and Hyde-Smith face off before the Nov. 27 runoff election, which will decide who serves out the final two years of Sen. Thad Cochran’s term.

Hyde-Smith was appointed to the seat back in April when Cochran announced his retirement. If she wins Tuesday’s runoff, she will become the first woman elected to represent Mississippi in the United States Congress. If Espy is elected, he would become the first African American senator from Mississippi since Reconstruction.

Tuesday’s debate was not open to the public, and there was no live audience. WLBT’s Maggie Wade was the debate moderator. The panelists were Courtney Ann Jackson (WLBT), Geoff Pender (Clarion-Ledger) and Caleb Bedillion (Daily Journal).


  • Candidates will each have one hour in the auditorium the day of the event to get familiarized with the room, mic checks, etc.
  • Candidates will be allowed to have one staffer in the room during the debate. 
  • No audience will be in attendance; only the candidates, one staff member, panelists, and personnel from WLBT and Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation will be allowed in the room during the debate.
  • Campaigns will have credentialed access to the MFBF building beginning the morning of the debate. 
  • Both campaigns will have full access to an area of the MFBF building for preparation and viewing.
  • No campaign signs will be allowed on MFBF property.
  • Candidates may bring notes, pen, etc. to be placed on podium.
  • Questions were carefully chosen by the panelists, moderator and other WLBT editorial staff.
  • Panelists will rotate questions.
  • Candidates will have 2 minutes to answer question and a 1-minute rebuttal will be allowed if needed. Questions will resume after one rebuttal. 
  • Each candidate will pre-submit one question for their opponent which will be asked by the moderator midway through the panel
  • Props and campaign stickers will be prohibited, however lapel pins will be allowed. 
  • Cell phones prohibited on podium. 
  • Closing statements by each candidate (order determined by draw) limited to two minutes (4 minutes).


FULL DEBATE VIDEO: Mississippi Senatorial Debate

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