Why Wicker, Hyde-Smith won’t commit to debates

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Eric J. Shelton, Mississippi Today/ Report for America

U.S. Senate candidate Cindy Hyde-Smith speaks to media after giving a speech during the Neshoba County Fair in Philadelphia, Miss. Thursday, August 2, 2018.

Mississippi’s two Republican U.S. senators are not saying whether they will — or won’t — debate their opponents before the November 6 general election.

Both Roger Wicker of Tupelo and Cindy Hyde-Smith of Brookhaven, who will be on the ballot in November in two separate Senate races, say their commitments in Washington, D.C., make it difficult to find time for debates.

Hyde-Smith, the former state commissioner of agriculture and commerce, was appointed by Gov. Phil Bryant to replace long-time Sen. Thad Cochran who resigned in March for health reasons. She will face former U.S. Rep. Mike Espy, a Democrat, state Sen. Chris McDaniel, R-Ellisville, and Gautier Democrat Tobey Bartee in the November election.

Both McDaniel and Espy say they have committed to debates.

Melissa Scallan, a spokeswoman for Hyde-Smith, said: “The senator is doing the job in Washington, D.C., that she was appointed to do by Gov. Phil Bryant to represent the people of Mississippi. The fact that she is doing a good job was highlighted recently when President Donald Trump endorsed her. We are certainly willing to work with organizations that want to discuss scheduling debates, but the dates can’t interfere with her primary responsibility and duty of serving the people of our state in the U.S. Senate. Sen. Hyde-Smith is focused on her job working for the people of Mississippi, and we are not going to allow a grandstanding press release from Chris McDaniel to dictate her schedule.”

Trump is also scheduled to hold a rally in Jackson on September 14 for Hyde-Smith. The president has also endorsed Wicker.

McDaniel sent out an email recently saying he had agreed to debates. Various groups, including Millsaps College, the Mississippi College School of Law and Mississippi Public Broadcasting have proposed debates.

Eric J. Shelton, Mississippi Today/ Report for America

U.S. Senate candidate Chris McDaniel speaks to media after speaking during the Neshoba County Fair in Philadelphia, Miss. Thursday, August 2, 2018.

“I can’t imagine why someone running to represent our state in the U.S. Senate, which used to be known as the world’s greatest deliberative body, would avoid discussing the issues facing Mississippi, but sadly we’ve seen it before,” McDaniel said. “If Cindy Hyde-Smith skips these debates, it sends the message that the so-called elites are above accountability — that they don’t have to answer to the people.”

Espy spokesperson Othor Cain said Espy had accepted one debate invitation and would consider other invitations.

In the state’s other Senate election, the incumbent, Wicker, faces a challenge from state Rep. David Baria, D-Bay St. Louis.

Of the possibility of a debate, campaign spokesman Justin Brassell said: “Sen. Wicker has been focused on doing his job. As you know, the Senate canceled the planned August recess in order to get more work done and more confirmations completed. The very few debate invitations we’ve received to date have conflicted with the voting schedule in Washington.

Eric J. Shelton, Mississippi Today/ Report for America

U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker speaks during the Neshoba County Fair in Philadelphia, Miss. Thursday, August 2, 2018.

“We have not decided on any number. It will just depend on the schedule and flexibility of organizations interested in hosting something. Sen. Wicker has a well-known record and takes pride in making clear where he stands on the issues.”

Baria lamented that when he entered the race that friends associated with the Wicker campaign assured him Wicker would debate.

“The request I made to him was open-ended,” Baria said. “You pick a place. You pick a time. You pick a date and I will be there.”