Former Miss America pageant leader mulls Sen. Hyde-Smith challenge in 2020 GOP primary

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Courtesy Randle Strategies

Josh Randle

Josh Randle, who previously served as president of the Miss America Organization, has formed an exploratory committee to consider running as a Republican against U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith in 2020.

Randle, a 31-year-old Oxford resident and Amory native, told Mississippi Today that his motivation to run was based on Hyde-Smith’s reputation following a rocky 2018 campaign.

“Mississippi needs a true Republican senator with fresh ideas and a clear vision on how to move our state forward,” Randle said in a statement. “We need a senator who is effective, accessible and projects a positive image of our state on the national stage. Mississippi deserves better, and I look forward to exploring whether I am the right person to step forward and run.”

Randle would face Hyde-Smith in a March 2020 primary. Hyde-Smith, who was appointed by Gov. Phil Bryant in April 2018 to temporarily serve after Sen. Thad Cochran retired, was elected in a November 2018 special election to serve the remainder of Cochran’s six-year term. That term ends in 2020.

Hyde-Smith faced scrutiny from around the nation during her 2018 campaign after she said at a campaign rally that she would attend a “public hanging.” National reporters descended on Mississippi to cover the special election runoff with former Democratic Congressman Mike Espy, a black man who contextualized Hyde-Smith’s comments with the state’s bitter history of lynchings on the campaign trail.

Espy announced on Tuesday that he is running for the seat again in 2020.

In the wake of Hyde-Smith’s comments, several national corporations who contributed to her campaign publicly asked for their money back.

Randle is the second Republican to publicly suggest a primary challenge of Hyde-Smith. In July, Ridgeland millionaire businessman Gerard Gibert told a crowd at Jacinto that he would mull a primary run against Hyde-Smith.

Randle, who moved from Washington, D.C., to Oxford earlier this year with his wife, Alex, owns a consulting firm. Randle registered his firm in Mississippi in March of this year, according to Secretary of State records.

After being made the youngest-ever president of the Miss America Organization at age 29 in early 2017, Randle resigned less than a year later after leaked emails from former Miss America Chairman Sam Haskell, also a Mississippian, showed that Haskell and several top executives at the organization targeted past pageant winners for abuse based on their appearance, intellect and sex lives.

In one Randle email published by HuffPost, which he says was sent before he worked at the Miss America Organization, he commented that one pageant contestant was “a healthy one,” an apparent reference to the contestant’s weight.

Randle resigned voluntarily from the organization in December of 2017.

“While I believe it was wrong for my private email to be leaked to a reporter with a biased agenda, I acknowledged my temporary lapse of judgment,” Randle said in a statement to Mississippi Today this week. “It does not reflect my values as I have proven throughout my life. And while my involvement was limited to a single reply when I was not yet an employee of Miss America, I apologized to the person who was the subject of that email. We all make mistakes, and our ability to learn and grow from our experiences is what ultimately defines us.”

Before moving to the Miss America Organization, Randle previously served as the first-ever chief executive officer of The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Foundation USA, one of the British Royal family’s principal charities.

Candidates for Mississippi’s U.S. Senate and congressional races in the 2020 cycle have until Jan. 10, 2020, to qualify for the race. The Republican and Democratic primaries will be held on March 10, 2020. The general election will be held on Nov. 3, 2020.