JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — A newly published video shows a white Republican U.S. senator in Mississippi praising someone by saying: “If he invited me to a public hanging, I’d be on the front row.”
Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, who faces a black Democratic challenger in a Nov. 27 runoff, said Sunday that her Nov. 2 remark was “exaggerated expression of regard” for someone who invited her to speak and “any attempt to turn this into a negative connotation is ridiculous.”
Mississippi has a history of racially motivated lynchings of black people. The NAACP website says that between 1882 and 1968, there were 4,743 lynchings in the United States, and nearly 73 percent of the victims were black. It says Mississippi had 581 during that time, the highest number of any state.
Hyde-Smith is challenged by former congressman and former U.S. agriculture secretary Mike Espy.
“Cindy Hyde-Smith’s comments are reprehensible,” Espy campaign spokesman Danny Blanton said in a statement Sunday. “They have no place in our political discourse, in Mississippi, or our country. We need leaders, not dividers, and her words show that she lacks the understanding and judgment to represent the people of our state.”
The video was shot in Tupelo, in front of a statue of Elvis Presley, who was born in the city in northeastern Mississippi. It shows a small group of white people clapping politely for Hyde-Smith after a cattle rancher introduced her.
“I referred to accepting an invitation to a speaking engagement,” said Hyde-Smith, who is also a cattle rancher, in a statement Sunday. “In referencing the one who invited me, I used an exaggerated expression of regard, and any attempt to turn this into a negative connotation is ridiculous.”