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

A U.S. Senate debate jointly hosted by Millsaps College and Mississippi Public Broadcasting will be held – with or without incumbent interim U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith.

Candidates Chris McDaniel, a Republican, and Mike Espy, a Democrat, have agreed to participate in the Oct. 4 debate at Millsaps, according to a news release from the debate partners. Lesser-known candidate, Tobey Bartee, a Gautier Democrat, also will participate.

But Sen. Hyde-Smith has consistently avoided committing. Last week at a campaign event in Ridgeland, Sen. Hyde-Smith said the slim Republican majority in the Senate made her concerned about missing votes.

“We have to see how the scheduling works out, and if it works out. But we’re extremely busy, and with the margin, you know that’s a big reason you cannot miss a vote,” Hyde-Smith said. “We have just enough votes to get things passed and no one can afford to be absent from that.”

This week, Melissa Scallan, a spokesperson for Hyde-Smith, elaborated, saying the senator would be open to debating if her schedule allows, “Sen. Hyde-Smith has been invited to two debates – one on Oct. 4 and one on Oct. 23. She will be in session in D.C. both of those dates, and we have told that to the organizers who invited her. She is not going to miss votes in order to participate in a debate.”

U.S. Senate candidate Mike Espy speaks to the media after giving his political speech during the Neshoba County Fair in Philadelphia, Miss. Thursday, August 2, 2018.

The debate is slated to start at 7 p.m. in the Recital Hall of the Gertrude C. Ford Academic Complex at Millsaps, a private school located in Jackson. The debate is open to the public on a first-come basis. The doors will open at 6:15 p.m., and the debate will be broadcast live statewide on Mississippi Public Broadcasting Television and on MPB Think Radio.

The news release gave Hyde-Smith “an open invitation” to participate in the debate.

Republican Hyde-Smith was appointed to the U.S. Senate post by Gov. Phil Bryant after long-time incumbent Thad Cochran resigned in March for health reasons.

Hyde-Smith, the former state commissioner of agriculture and commerce; state Sen. McDaniel of Ellisville; former U.S. Rep. Espy, who also served as secretary of agriculture in the Clinton administration; and Bartee, a former Navy intelligence officer; will vie in a Nov. 6 special election. If no candidate garners a majority, a runoff between the top two vote-getters will be held two weeks later.

“This is an important election for the state and the country, and Millsaps College is proud to work with Mississippi Public Broadcasting to bring these candidates together to discuss their positions on crucial issues,” said Millsaps President Robert W. Pearigen. “Millsaps prides itself on being a public square for important conversations on social, economic, cultural, and political topics, and we look forward to hosting the candidates next month.”

Ronnie Agnew, executive director of Mississippi Public Broadcasting, said, “Live debates are a unique opportunity to hear candidates address the crucial issues that matter to all of us. “We are excited to partner with Millsaps College to broadcast this important debate on our statewide television and radio networks. This debate will help all Mississippians make a better informed decision when they go to the polls to vote.”

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Bobby Harrison, Mississippi Today’s senior capitol reporter, covers politics, government and the Mississippi State Legislature. He also writes a weekly news analysis which is co-published in newspapers statewide. A native of Laurel, Bobby joined our team June 2018 after working for the North Mississippi Daily Journal in Tupelo since 1984. He is president of the Mississippi Capitol Press Corps Association and works with the Mississippi State University Stennis Institute to organize press luncheons. Bobby has a bachelor's in American Studies from the University of Southern Mississippi and has received multiple awards from the Mississippi Press Association, including the Bill Minor Best Investigative/In-depth Reporting and Best Commentary Column.