U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith touched off a firestorm with comments made at a campaign stop in Tupelo two weeks ago which have just now surfaced that referenced a quote regarding that she would attend "a public hanging" if invited by a particular cattle rancher friend.
Hyde-Smith was quick to say her comments were taken out of context and were a figure of speech, but her opponent, former U.S. Rep. Mike Espy jumped on the comments as saying Hyde-Smith's comments were racially insensitive at the very least.
Hyde-Smith faces Espy in a nonpartisan runoff for the U.S. Senate seat once held by former U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran on Nov. 27.
Mississippi is a state where public lynchings were once common.
During a campaign stop back on Nov. 2, the sitting U.S. Senator was overheard as saying if the cattle rancher friend she was campaigning with "invited me to a public hanging, I'd be on the front row."
Hyde-Smith, through a statement released Monday, said the comments were a form of exaggerated speech. Her comments were apparently captured in a video without her knowledge on Nov. 2.
"In a comment on Nov. 2, I referred to accepting an invitation to a speaking engagement," Hyde Smith said. "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."
Espy issued a statement through his Campaign Communications Director Danny Blanton, characterizing Hyde-Smith's comments as "reprehensible."
In a statement issued to the DeSoto Times-Tribune on Monday, Blanton said Hyde-Smith's comments had no place in modern civil discourse.
“Cindy Hyde-Smith's comments are reprehensible. 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 DeSoto County and our state.”
Hyde-Smith's DeSoto County Campaign chairman John Caldwell said no racial overtones should be construed by the Senator's comments. Caldwell emphasized he was speaking from his perspective.
"My thoughts are we believe in the death penalty for child molesters and terrorists and protecting the lives of the unborn," Caldwell said, adding capital punishment, of which Hyde-Smith is a supporter, has taken several forms in the past. "There's lethal injection. Tennessee just had an electrocution last week. The principle is still the same. In the old days horse thieves were hanged. The reference was not racial. It was about capital punishment. We're pro capital punishment. We're pro second amendment. That's my perspective. It (comments) were certainly not racially oriented. Nobody's talking about vigilante justice."
Robert Lee Long is Community Editor for the DeSoto Times-Tribune. He may be contacted at email@example.com or at 662-429-6397, Ext. 252.