Democrat Mike Espy wants to debate Republican Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, but Hyde-Smith has not accepted invitations. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis, File)

With the Nov. 3 election quickly approaching, Republican U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith is not giving any indication that she plans to debate her Democratic opponent Mike Espy.

Espy has publicly accepted one debate invitation from WJTV in Jackson and most likely will accept a similar invitation in coming days from WLBT, another Jackson television station.

But it takes two to debate.

The Hyde-Smith campaign has not responded to questions from Mississippi Today about whether she plans to participate in a debate. In earlier interviews with Mississippi Today, Hyde-Smith spokesperson Justin Brasell said the campaign had received an invitation to participate in a debate but had not decided whether it could be worked into the senator’s schedule.

Most incumbent U.S. senators facing re-election this year, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, have agreed to debates with their major-party opponents.

“Corrupt Mike Espy is desperate to attract any attention he can get for his failing campaign,” the Hyde-Smith campaign said to WJTV earlier this month. “He was too corrupt for the Clinton Administration and is too liberal for Mississippi. Voters in our state know we have a bright future with Cindy Hyde-Smith and have no desire to revisit Mike Espy’s past scandals.”

While serving as U.S. secretary of agriculture under President Bill Clinton, Espy was indicted on multiple public corruption charges. But he was acquitted on all counts.

In 2018, Hyde-Smith and Espy debated when they were vying in a special election to replace longtime Sen. Thad Cochran, who resigned for health reasons. Hyde-Smith was appointed by then-Gov. Phil Bryant to replace Cochran in the interim before the special election. She is now vying for a full six-year term, and Espy, who captured more than 46% of the vote in 2018, is challenging her again.

Thus far the campaign has been relatively low-keyed, largely because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Hyde-Smith has said she has been actively campaigning via the internet, though it is difficult to find examples of that.

“Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith is afraid to debate because she knows that Mississippians are hurt by her policies,” said Joe O’Hern, Espy’s campaign manager. “Given Sen. Hyde-Smith’s availability to ‘do a lot of townhall meetings’ and her claims that she’s ‘covering the state’ with events, the senator certainly has enough time to debate on the issues that matter most during this pivotal moment.”

In accepting the WJTV debate invitation, Espy said, “Debates provide an important opportunity for Mississippians to hear from candidates on our vision for the state and on the issues that matter most to Mississippians as we approach the election.”

In 2018, Hyde-Smith also was reluctant to debate. She refused multiple debate invitations before finally agreeing to one hosted by the Farm Bureau. Farm Bureau had previously honored Hyde-Smith who was the commissioner of agriculture and commerce when she was appointed to the U.S. Senate. Her family also owns a cattle ranch.

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Bobby Harrison

Bobby Harrison

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.