When a sitting U.S. senator up for reelection asks that neither the press nor the public be allowed to attend a debate with her opponent, that kind of thing tends to generate attention.
Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.), who is trying to hold on to her seat in a runoff against Democratic challenger Mike Espy, faced an onslaught of criticism after the Jackson Free Press revealed her lengthy list of demands for Tuesday night's debate.
While Espy communications director Danny Blanton told the newspaper, "We supported having an audience, and we advocated for the media to have access to the studio," two unnamed sources said that the senator "demanded there be no audience or outside press allowed."
She won that battle—according to the paper, just "the debate moderator, panelists, and the production team will be allowed in the auditorium"—but those weren't her only requests that were granted.
— Ashton Pittman (@ashtonpittman) November 20, 2018
As the Free Press reported:
A notepad was going to be at the podium for candidates when they stepped onto the stage at the start of the debate, but the Hyde-Smith team wanted the notepad sooner. The candidates will instead be given notepads about an hour before the debate begins. Hyde-Smith's team originally asked that she be allowed to bring in "a binder" but was denied, the source said.
"They have restricted this debate so much that if she bombs, it will be a miracle," the source said.
At one point in tonight's debate, the candidates were going to be given the chance to directly ask one another a question. The Hyde-Smith campaign, however, did not like that idea. Instead, they asked to submit the question ahead of time and for the moderator to ask the questions on the candidates' behalfs.
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It is, perhaps, unsurprising that the Mississippi Farm Bureau, which is hosting the debate, acquiesced to the senator's requests. As the newspaper also pointed out, the bureau's top board members have all donated to her reelection campaign. As critics weighed in on Hyde-Smith's requests, the story went viral so quickly it crashed the paper's website.
— Eric (@ericxdelta) November 20, 2018
.@cindyhydesmith what are you afraid of? The purpose of debates help voters hear candidates speak on issues and help undecided voters make up their minds. Why bother if there can be no audience or press? We already know who you are & what you stand for. Others may not. #MSDebate https://t.co/EmiFXFhALr
— Sherree Worrell (@Sherree_W) November 20, 2018
ha. did she also demand Mike Espy not show up?? https://t.co/bA3eZK4TDo
— Eric Boehlert (@EricBoehlert) November 20, 2018
The race has garnered national attention—and not just because it's the only remaining seat up for grabs in the Senate. Hyde-Smith has also come under fire for making a joke about attending a "public hanging," especially considering that she is facing off against a black candidate.
In a joint statement, ACLU deputy legal director Jeff Robinson and ACLU of Mississippi executive director Jennifer Riley Collins, responded that it would serve her well "to brush up on her state's history—from slavery, to slave patrols, lynchings, black codes, Jim Crow, and all the way to modern-day mass incarceration—to fully understand the breadth of her despicable comment."
Mississippi voters head to the polls again on Nov. 27 to select their next senator. In the general election earlier this month, Hyde-Smith garnered 41.5 percent of the vote, Espy 40.6 percent, Republican Chris McDaniel 16.5 percent, and Democrat Tobey Bartee 1.4 percent. Voters in the state are required to have a valid form of photo I.D.