Mike Espy’s campaign official say’s “Secretary Espy believes it is important for Cindy Hyde-Smith to participate since she is holding that seat.” Hyde-Smith has said with the Senate in session in Washington, she can’t attend the Oct. 4 Jackson debate.

Mike Espy, the leading Democratic candidate in the Nov. 6 Senate special election, is now saying he will not participate in a planned debate unless it also involves interim U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith.

Republican Hyde-Smith, appointed by Gov. Phil Bryant in April to replace veteran Sen. Thad Cochran who resigned for health reasons, was the only one of the four candidates in the special election not to commit to the Thursday debate at Millsaps College, sponsored by both the college and Mississippi Public Broadcasting.

Hyde-Smith had said the fact that the Senate is still in session in Washington, D.C., most likely would prevent her from participating.

Friday afternoon, the Espy campaign, said if Hyde-Smith was not participating neither would he.

“Secretary Espy believes it is important for Cindy Hyde-Smith to participate since she is holding that seat,” said Othor Cain, a spokesman for Espy. “He believes it is important for the citizens of Mississippi to hear directly from her.”

Cain said Espy, the former secretary of agriculture in the Bill Clinton administration, would be willing to participate if Hyde-Smith does. He also noted that Hyde-Smith was participating in other events in the state, such as Tuesday’s rally in DeSoto County with President Donald Trump.

U.S. Senate Republican candidate Chris McDaniel gives his political speech during the Neshoba County Fair in Philadelphia, Miss. Thursday, August 2, 2018.

In a statement, John Sewell, director of communications and marketing at Millsaps, said, “We have been notified today by the Mike Espy for U.S. Senate Campaign of their decision to not participate in the planned Oct.4 debate for candidates in the special election for the U.S. Senate seat previously held by Sen. Thad Cochran. We are reaching out to the campaigns of state Sen. Chris McDaniel and Tobey Bartee for further discussion and will provide more information as it becomes available.”

The other two candidates running in the special election are McDaniel, a Republican from Ellisville, and Bartee, a Gautier Democrat. Hyde-Smith and Espy are considered by many the front-runners in the race.

If no candidate obtains a majority vote on Nov. 6, a runoff between the top two vote-getters will be held three weeks later.

McDaniel, who narrowly lost to Cochran in 2014, said, “Mike Espy is pulling out of this debate for the same reason Cindy Hyde-Smith refuses to debate. Because they can’t stand in front of the people and defend their Democratic record. This is political cowardice at its worst. As is typical for lifelong Democrats, they both lack the courage to discuss the issues. It is a coordinated effort on their part to deny Republicans a platform that would expose their failed Democrat policies that don’t reflect Mississippi values. Democrats say they prefer the color blue. But yellow suits them better.”

Hyde-Smith was elected in in 2011 to the statewide post commissioner of agriculture and commerce as a Republican. Before then, she served in the state Senate as a Democrat.

Melissa Scallan, spokesperson for Hyde-Smith, said, “The Senate schedule remains the same, and Sen. Hyde-Smith will be in session on Oct. 4, so it isn’t possible for her to participate in that debate. We don’t have any comment on Mr. Espy’s plans not to participate.”

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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.

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 AL.com, 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.