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Mississippi Senator insists ‘public hanging’ joke was merely an ‘exaggerated expression of regard’

Her black opponent disagrees.

Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith (L) stands on stage with US President Donald Trump at a "Make America Great Again" rally at Landers Center in Southaven, Mississippi, on October 2, 2018. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN / AFP)        (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith (L) stands on stage with US President Donald Trump at a "Make America Great Again" rally at Landers Center in Southaven, Mississippi, on October 2, 2018. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN / AFP) (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)

On Sunday, Louisiana political blogger Lamar White Jr. shared a video of Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS) light-heartedly talking about “public hangings” in front of a group of jovial supporters at a campaign event on November 2.

“If he invited me to a public hanging, I’d be on the front row,” Hyde-Smith said, while standing next to cattle rancher Colin Hutchinson in Tupelo, Mississippi.

Her comments immediately drew ire, especially from her opponent, Democrat Mike Espy, who is a black man. He called them “reprehensible.”

But Hyde-Smith is not apologizing. Instead, she’s saying that it’s “ridiculous” for anyone to be offended by her remarks.

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“In a comment on Nov. 2, I referred to accepting an invitation to a speaking engagement. 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,” Hyde-Smith said in a statement on Sunday.

Hyde-Smith was appointed to the Senate in April, after health problems forced Thad Cochran (R-MS) to step down. On November 6, Mississippi held a special election to see who would serve the remaining two years of Cocran’s term. Both Hyde-Smith and Espy received around 41 percent of the vote, and therefore will compete in a runoff on November 27.

The two are scheduled to debate one another on November 20. According to the Clarion Ledger, Hyde-Smith refused to debate her opponents during the general election.

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Espy, who is attempting to be the first black U.S. Senator from Mississippi since the Reconstruction era, said Hyde-Smith’s comments prove she is unfit to be a leader.

“[Her comments] have no place in our political discourse, in Mississippi, or our country,” Epsy said. “We need leaders, not dividers, and her words show that she lacks the understanding and judgment to represent the people of our state.”

NAACP President Derrick Johnson said that Hyde-Smith’s comments were particularly disturbing given the history of lynching in Mississippi.

“Hyde-Smith’s decision to joke about ‘hanging,’ in a state known for its violent and terroristic history toward African Americans is sick,” NAACP President Derrick Johnson said in a press release on Sunday. “To envision this brutal and degenerate type of frame during a time when Black people, Jewish People and immigrants are still being targeted for violence by White nationalists and racists is hateful and hurtful.”

According to the Jackson Free Press, Mississippi had the highest number of lynchings of African Americans of any state in the U.S. between 1877 and 1950.

Trump endorsed Hyde-Smith back in August.

“She’s always had my back,” Trump said at a rally on October 2. “She’s always had your back. And a vote for Cindy is a vote for me.”