In an interview with Mississippi Today, U.S. Senate candidate Chris McDaniel would not say whether he’d support Republican Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith or Democratic candidate Mike Espy in the event of a special election runoff in late November.

Political experts have speculated that Mississippi could be one of the states that decides control of the U.S. Senate, where Republicans now hold a majority. Because the race to replace retired U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran is a special election, a runoff would take place if no candidate receives a majority of votes.

McDaniel, whose Senate campaign has focused on delegitimizing Hyde-Smith’s conservative values by pointing out her former Democratic Party affiliation, declined to commit to supporting Hyde-Smith, a fellow Republican, if he missed the runoff.

“From where I’m standing today, knowing what I know, they’re both philosophically very much alike. But because of Mr. Espy’s past indictments and his past direct work with the Clinton administration, that causes me grave concern,” McDaniel said when asked which candidate he would support if he fails to make it into a runoff.

“Now, Cindy voted for Hillary (Clinton) but she was never indicted. Granted, I recognize that sometimes indictments take place, but it’s my understanding that he accepted the bribe. Because of that, sitting here today, that causes me grave concern.”

As a Democratic state senator, Hyde-Smith voted in the 2008 Democratic primary, but says she does not remember if she voted for Clinton or Barack Obama, who beat Clinton for the Democratic nomination and won the election.

The indictments McDaniel referenced go back to Espy’s time as agriculture secretary in the 1990s, when a grand jury indicted him for improperly accepting gifts (not bribery, as McDaniel stated). A federal jury eventually found Espy not guilty, but Mississippi Republicans have used the indictments to paint Espy as corrupt.

McDaniel said although his “general rule of politics is never (support) the Democrat,” he wants to see Hyde-Smith in a debate before he decides whether he would support his fellow Republican in a runoff against Espy.

“I’m going to wait to see how she answers the tough questions. I want her to prove to me that she’s the Republican she claims to be, but her record shows she is not. If she can prove to me that she’s the Republican she claims to be, then sure. But outside of that, I’ve got to wait to see what she has to say,” he said.

“To do that, she can’t hide behind press releases. She can’t hide behind communications directors. She needs to engage the system. Come to us, debate us, explain to us why she’s a Republican because I haven’t seen any evidence of that thus far.”

McDaniel, of Ellisville, is running against Hyde-Smith, Espy and Democrat Tobey Bartee in an officially nonpartisan special election on Nov. 6. If no single candidate gets 50 percent of the vote on Nov. 6, the top two vote-getters, regardless of partisan affiliation, will run off on Nov. 27.

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Adam Ganucheau, as Mississippi Today's editor-in-chief, oversees the newsroom and works with the editorial team to fulfill our mission of producing high-quality journalism in the public interest. Adam has covered politics and state government for Mississippi Today since February 2016. A native of Hazlehurst, Adam has worked as a staff reporter for, The Birmingham News and The Clarion-Ledger and his work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post and Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Adam earned his bachelor’s in journalism from the University of Mississippi.