Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.), running for election against an African-American man, joked in a video posted online that if she were invited by one of her supporters to a “public hanging,” she would be in “the front row.”
The clip was published on Twitter Sunday by a Mississippi blogger, who said Hyde-Smith was campaigning with a cattle rancher when she made the comment.
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“If he invited me to a public hanging, I’d be on the front row,” Hyde-Smith said. There was no further context for the remark immediately available.
Hyde-Smith was sworn into the Senate in April to replace former Sen. Thad Cochran, who retired for health reasons. She is competing in a runoff election against Democrat Mike Espy, an African-American former congressman and agriculture secretary. Hyde-Smith and Espy were the top two finishers in last week’s Senate race, but neither topped 50 percent, forcing a Nov. 27 runoff in which she is heavily favored.
Danny Blanton, a spokesman for Espy, condemned Hyde-Smith’s remarks.
“Cindy Hyde-Smith’s comments are reprehensible,” Blanton said. “They have no place in our political discourse, in Mississippi, or our country. We need leaders, not dividers, and her words show that she lacks the understanding and judgment to represent the people of our state.”
In a statement sent out by her campaign, Hyde-Smith said the comment was from Nov. 2. She called it an “exaggerated expression of regard.”
“In a comment on Nov. 2, I referred to accepting an invitation to a speaking engagement. In referencing the one who invited me, I used an exaggerated expression of regard, and any attempt to turn this into a negative connotation is ridiculous,” Hyde-Smith said.
NAACP President Derrick Johnson released a statement Sunday calling the comment “sick” and “shameful.”
“Hyde-Smith’s decision to joke about ‘hanging,’ in a state known for its violent and terroristic history toward African Americans is sick,” Johnson said. “To envision this brutal and degenerate type of frame during a time when Black people, Jewish People and immigrants are still being targeted for violence by White nationalists and racists is hateful and hurtful. Any politician seeking to serve as the national voice of the people of Mississippi should know better.”