As a run-off between former U.S Secretary of Agriculture Mike Espy and U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith becomes more likely, the candidates are embracing their historic potential of their candidacies

Moments after Gov. Phil Bryant walked off the stage at Mississippi Economic Council’s annual Hobnob Thursday morning, U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith did something she’d never done before — publicly embraced her role as the first woman Mississippi has ever sent to Congress.

She did so on Twitter, retweeting Bryant’s quote from his speech. “I think having the first woman from Mississippi serving in the U.S. Senate is going to be really good,” Bryant posted.

Although Hyde-Smith’s appointment to the U.S. Senate in April made history, for months now on the campaign trail Hyde-Smith has avoided mentioning this milestone. She has also declined to talk about the fact that if she wins the Nov. 6 special election, she will make history yet again, this time as the first woman Mississippi has elected to Congress.

In a profile published last week, Mississippi Today talked to Hyde-Smith about this strategy. At the time, Hyde-Smith said: “It’s really not intentional. I just don’t think about gender that much.”

This week, Hyde-Smith elaborated more on the significance of her position in the Senate.

“A report came out last week that said she doesn’t go out and tell people she’s female. I think you can tell I’m a woman. I’m very proud I’m a woman, and I do think it’s a lot of opportunity. It’s not a gender issue. It’s about qualifications. It’s about the best person there. But I am elated when I have women tell me that you’re such an encourager for the women in this state,” Hyde-Smith told reporters after her speech Thursday.

Hyde-Smith is running in the officially nonpartisan Nov. 6 special election against three other candidates: fellow Republican, state Sen. Chris McDaniel and two Democrats, Mike Espy and Tobey Bartee.

U.S. Senate candidate Mike Espy, left, is joined by U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., as he speaks to media during a press conference at the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum in Jackson Friday July, 20, 2018.

Of course Espy, who came in second in the October poll with 29 percent of voters saying they would support him which makes a run-off with Hyde-Smith likely, is also poised to make history in November.

In 1986, Espy became the first African American from Mississippi elected to U.S. House since Reconstruction and later became the first African American U.S. Agriculture secretary. If successful this time around, he would be the first African-American from Mississippi — and one of only a handful in the nation — to serve in the U.S. Senate since Reconstruction and the first African American popularly elected in the state.

Although Espy mentions this milestone in speeches, he has also said of his own position as a history maker, “I am proud of that, but I am not dwelling on it.”

Espy says people should vote for him because, “I am the most experienced candidate in this race.”

But he did say at Thursday’s Hob Nob, that his election would “send the message Mississippi is poised to move forward and that Mississippi is on the move.”

Bobby Harrison contributed to this story.

Follow Mississippi Today’s continuing coverage of the historic runoff election between Cindy Hyde-Smith and Mike Espy.

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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.