Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.) interacts with supporters during a Farmers for Cindy Hyde-Smith event at Wade Inc. in Greenwood Friday, September 7, 2018.

Despite mounting pressure to debate her opponents before Election Day, Republican U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith believes there is a better way to get up close and personal with voters.

“We are doing a bus tour … through the state. We’re taking our message to (voters) and they can come ask me any question that they want to ask me. I just think that’s more beneficial (than debating),” Hyde-Smith told Mississippi Today when asked about the possibility of a debate on Tuesday.

Although her two main rivals in the Nov. 6 special election—state Sen. Chris McDaniel, R-Ellisville, and former Democratic Congressman Mike Espy—have both said they would be willing to debate her at a moment’s notice, Hyde-Smith has never committed to participating in one, citing a busy Capitol Hill schedule.

Hyde-Smith’s reluctance to commit to debates came into renewed focus earlier this week in a video McDaniel’s campaign circulated to news media. In the video, Hyde-Smith, whom Gov. Phil Bryant appointed this spring, takes a departure from previous public statements she and her campaign officials have made about needing to remain working in Washington, D.C.

“Right now, my opponent does not have enough money to get on TV and my guys are saying that’s like handing him a $200,000 campaign donation because he’s way down in the polls,” Hyde-Smith says to an unidentified woman in the video. “He’s wanting the TV time.”

Hyde-Smith can also be heard on the video criticizing organizers of two separate debates for not checking the Senate calendar before scheduling the events.

One of them was scheduled to take place Oct. 4 at Millsaps College in Jackson. Espy and McDaniel, along with Tobey Bartee of Gautier, confirmed their participation. With the Senate confirmation vote over U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh looming, it became clear that Hyde Smith would not be able to participate, and Espy withdrew, prompting organizers to suspend plans for the debate.

Another debate was planned for Mississippi College School of Law in Jackson. At the time, Hyde-Smith said a debate would be impossible as long as the U.S. Senate remained in session.

“I’m not going to risk missing a vote,” she told reporters after a Ridgeland event for the National Association of Home Builders on Sept. 7.

Following the razor-thin Senate confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced a recess until after the Nov. 6 elections so that senators up for reelection could focus on their campaigns.

Since then, however, neither Hyde-Smith nor senior Mississippi Sen. Roger Wicker has committed to a debate, despite repeated requests from challengers. Wicker faces state Rep. David Baria, D-Bay St. Louis.

Although the some media characterized the recording of Hyde-Smith declining to debate as secret, Hyde-Smith told Mississippi Today she “knew good and well they were taping me.”

“You’re just going to have that in campaigns, the disguise and the deceit,” Hyde-Smith said Tuesday. “… I suspected it when they walked in the door, but that stuff just doesn’t bother me. I don’t say anything I don’t mean.”

Although Hyde-Smith’s campaign maintains the bus tour was already scheduled and would not take the place of a debate, campaign spokeswoman Melissa Scallan said: “Obviously, Chris McDaniel is running out of time, running out of money and now he’s just trying to garner free publicity, but we are just not going to give him a platform to continue spouting lies about Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith.”

Despite a consistent lack of interest from Hyde Smith, calls for a debate aren’t likely to subside. On Tuesday, Espy sent Hyde Smith a letter inviting her to debate.

“The time for a debate in this race has come,” Espy said in the letter.

The campaign said the bus tour is set to begin Oct. 20 and will run through the Nov. 6 election.

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Larrison Campbell is a Greenville native who reports on politics with an emphasis on public health. She received a bachelor’s from Wesleyan University and a master’s from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.Larrison is a 2018 National Press Foundation fellow in public health, a 2019 Blue Cross Blue Shield Foundation of Massachusetts fellow in health care reporting and a 2019 Center for Health Journalism National Fellow.