Hyde-Smith to debate Mike Espy, but refuses to allow audience—or outside press

State Commissioner of Agriculture and Commerce Cindy Hyde-Smith speaks about the positive actions of her department to protect and enhance the lot of the state's farmers during her address at the Neshoba County Fair in Philadelphia, Miss., Thursday, July 27, 2017. Known as "Mississippi's Giant Houseparty," the fair is an annual gathering where hundreds of extended families live in brightly painted cabins for more than a week and among the featured events are two days of political speaking. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)
Not a fan of debates. Or the press. Or the general public. Or college students. Or …

After Mississippi Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, a Republican Of Course, found herself facing a late November runoff against her Democratic challenger Mike Espy, she begrudgingly agreed to debate him. That debate will take place tonight at 7 PM; the runoff itself will happen on Nov. 27.

But you can get a feel for just how uneager Hyde-Smith has been to have such a debate by the near-comical demands she’s making.

U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith demanded there be no audience or outside press allowed at tonight’s U.S. Senate debate and requested other restrictions, two sources familiar with the debate negotiations told the Jackson Free Press Tuesday morning.

So the debate will be held sans audience, to prevent anyone from applauding, and not even the press will be allowed in the room. Why stop there? Why not insist both candidates debate from inside separate cardboard boxes? And rather than speaking aloud, why not insist the Senate candidates scribble their answers on note cards and shove them out little slots cut into each box?

Sigh. The reasons for such tight restrictions are, of course, to ensure that if Hyde-Smith makes a gaffe, it will, hopefully, not make for good videotape. Saying a shocking thing is one thing; saying a ridiculous thing and hearing a live audience audibly gasp is another. And Hyde-Smith has been churning out a steady supply of shocking things, of late: She joked, during her Mississippi campaign against Espy (a black man), that she’d attend a public hanging if a constituent invited her. She was captured on tape musing about how maybe we “want to make it just a little more difficult” for liberal college students to vote. Most recently, a 2014 photograph surfaced of a grinning Hyde-Smith wearing a Confederate hat during a tour of the Jefferson Davis Home and Presidential Library.

Now that a runoff is imminent, Hyde-Smith is clearly feeling enough pressure to at least agree to a single hastily scheduled debate. But she’s also taking steps to ensure the general public hears as little about it as possible.

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