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Mississippi deciding US Senate race that's rematch of 2018

By EMILY WAGSTER PETTUS Associated Press

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Democrat Mike Espy is trying unseat Republican U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith in Mississippi by labeling her “Confederate Cindy” and saying she’s out of touch with voters in a diverse state that has tried to move beyond its racist history. If elected, he would be Mississippi’s first Black U.S. senator since Reconstruction.

Hyde-Smith is campaigning as an acolyte of President Donald Trump and saying Espy would ally himself with liberals.

This year’s race is a rematch of a 2018 special election. Hyde-Smith was appointed to temporarily succeed longtime Republican Sen. Thad Cochran when he retired because of poor health early that year. She defeated Espy in a runoff months later, and she has been serving the final two years of the six-year term Cochran started.

Hyde-Smith, 61, is a former state agriculture commissioner and the only woman to have represented Mississippi in the U.S. House or Senate. She did not accept debate invitations this year, drawing criticism from Espy. Hyde-Smith’s campaign tweeted “100 Accomplishments in 100 days,” emphasizing her support of agriculture, efforts to bring federal money to the state and opposition to abortion.

Espy, 66, is an attorney. He served six years in the House before becoming U.S. agriculture secretary in 1993 under President Bill Clinton.

Mississippi has a 38% Black population. For Espy to win, he needs a strong turnout among Black voters loyal to the Democratic party and from white voters disenchanted with the Trump administration.

Republican-dominated Mississippi last elected a Democrat to the Senate in 1982. Trump has endorsed Hyde-Smith and the Democratic presidential nominee, former Vice President Joe Biden, has endorsed Espy.

In fundraising appeals, the Espy campaign has referred to Hyde-Smith as “Confederate Cindy” to remind people about photos that surfaced during the 2018 race. They came from a 2014 Facebook post by Hyde-Smith and showed her visiting the last home of Confederate president Jefferson Davis, which is on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Hyde-Smith wrote that it was “Mississippi history at its best!” In one photo, Hyde-Smith held a firearm and wore a cap like those used by Confederate soldiers.

Also during the 2018 race, a video showed Hyde-Smith complimenting a supporter by saying she would attend a “public hanging” if the man invited her, prompting Espy and others to say she was minimizing Mississippi’s history of lynchings.

Jimmy L. Edwards, a Libertarian candidate is also in this year’s Senate race but has spent little to campaign.

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Follow Emily Wagster Pettus on Twitter at http://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus.

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Find AP’s full election coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/election-2020.