Mike Espy said incumbent U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith is disrespecting Mississippians by offering few open-to-the-public appearances.

Democratic challenger Mike Espy said incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith is hiding from and disrespecting Mississippians by refusing to debate him and running a low-profile campaign with few open-to-the-public appearances.

“She’s doing the same thing the rest of the country often does — ignoring Mississippi,” Espy said in a Wednesday press conference before he hits the campaign trail for the final weeks before the Nov. 3 election. “… She’s running a lazy campaign, taking voters for granted. You don’t do that in Mississippi.”

Hyde-Smith’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday. On social media, she posted: “You have a choice this election, so I encourage you to dig into both of our records…” with a link to one of her campaign ads.

Espy said: “If you can’t come stand before the public or answer questions from the media, then you don’t deserve this seat … Unlike Sen. Hyde-Smith, when you call on me I will respond. When you ask me a question, I will answer it. I’m not going to run away from you … Cindy Hyde-Smith has not held one town-hall meeting in two years.”

READ MORE: “The last thing I’m worried about”: Sen. Hyde-Smith walks back willingness to debate Espy.

Espy said health care is the most important issue of the race, and he said Hyde-Smith should stand before voters and answer questions about her platform. He said she supports repeal of the federal Affordable Care Act “with no plan to replace it in the middle of a pandemic.” Espy also said Hyde-Smith “voted five times to undermine protections for pre-existing conditions.”

Hyde-Smith, in a rematch with Espy for a seat that most prognosticators consider safely Republican in one of the reddest states in the country, has done little public campaigning and has declined invitations to debate. The Mississippi race is one of few Senate contests across the country where candidates are not debating.

READ MORE: Most U.S. senators running in 2020 have agreed to debate. Cindy Hyde-Smith has not.

Espy criticized Hyde-Smith for comments she made recently on how it was good for voters that Vice President Mike Pence and Sen. Kamala Harris were debating to give the public their opinions and to show how they respond under pressure.

Many politicos have surmised that Hyde-Smith — prone to gaffes on the public campaign trail — believes she has a substantial lead in the race, can ride President Donald Trump’s coattails with Mississippi voters, and is otherwise laying low and trying not to give Espy’s campaign any platform.

Espy has accepted two debate requests, from WJTV and from WLBT, and on Wednesday said he is still willing to debate in the final weeks of the campaign.

Hyde-Smith had recently indicated she would like to debate Espy, if her schedule would allow it. But in comments to WJTV last week, Hyde-Smith said: “We have 27 days left. The last thing I’m worried about is a debate. With such stark differences, why would so much emphasis be put on a debate? … I don’t think a lot of minds would be changed.”

On Wednesday, Espy said: “That’s why you debate someone, if there are stark differences.”

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Geoff Pender serves as senior political reporter, working closely with Mississippi Today leadership on editorial strategy and investigations. Pender brings 30 years of political and government reporting experience to Mississippi Today. He was political and investigative editor at the Clarion Ledger, where he also penned a popular political column. He previously served as an investigative reporter and political editor at the Sun Herald, where he was a member of the Pulitzer Prize-winning team for Hurricane Katrina coverage. Originally from Florence, Mississippi, Pender is a journalism graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi and has received numerous awards throughout his career for reporting, columns and freedom of information efforts.