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Hyde-Smith accepts Farm Bureau debate; Espy considering it

November 9, 2018
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Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, R-Miss., speaks to supporters of her campaign during an election night party she shared with fellow Republican U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, right, in Jackson, Miss., Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018. Hyde-Smith, who was appointed to the seat, is in a Nov. 27 runoff against Mike Espy in this non-partisan race. The winner will serve the last two years of the six-year term vacated when Republican Thad Cochran retired for health reasons. (Sarah Warnock/The Clarion-Ledger via AP)

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — A Republican U.S. senator in Mississippi is accepting an invitation to debate her Democratic opponent a week before the Nov. 27 runoff, but it was not immediately clear whether the event will happen.

The Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation is organizing a Nov. 20 debate in Jackson, with plans for it to be televised.

Campaign spokeswoman Melissa Scallan said Thursday that Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith will take part.

Democrat Mike Espy’s campaign was reviewing “terms and conditions” before deciding whether to accept the group’s invitation, campaign spokesman Danny Blanton said.

Espy sent Hyde-Smith a letter Wednesday challenging her to three debates, although he did not mention specific dates, places or sponsors.

“These debates should be moderated by a nonpartisan institution that can broadcast this information to the entire state,” wrote Espy, a former congressman and former U.S. agriculture secretary.

Hyde-Smith was state agriculture commissioner when longtime Sen. Thad Cochran retired in April. Republican Gov. Phil Bryant appointed her to temporarily succeed Cochran until a special election is resolved.

Hyde-Smith and Espy each received about 41 percent of the vote in a four-person race Tuesday. The winner of the runoff will serve the final two years of the term Cochran started.

Hyde-Smith declined to debate Espy and two other challengers before Tuesday, saying that one of the challengers, Republican Chris McDaniel, was telling “untruths” about her.

“I’m going to stick with people that are civil,” Hyde-Smith said Nov. 1 in response to questions about debates.

Blanton said Thursday that Espy has a “moral obligation” to take part in a debate sponsored by Millsaps College and Mississippi Public Broadcasting if those groups have one before the runoff. Espy, McDaniel and Tobey Bernard Bartee, who also ran, originally committed to a Millsaps-MPB debate in October. However, Espy backed out after Hyde-Smith declined to participate.

Millsaps spokesman John Sewell said Thursday that the private college and MPB sent letters to the Hyde-Smith and Espy campaigns Wednesday, saying the two groups would like to set a Nov. 20 debate.

Scallan said the Hyde-Smith campaign received and accepted the Farm Bureau Federation invitation before receiving the one from Millsaps and MPB. Scallan also said time for debates is limited because the Senate will be in session three days next week, candidates are planning other events and Thanksgiving is the week before the runoff.

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

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