Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith, a Mississippi Republican, has generated controversy once again after she suggested that laws that “make it just a little more difficult” for some college students to vote are “a great idea.”
Video of Hyde-Smith's remarks was uploaded to social media by blogger and journalist Lamar White Jr.
"And then they remind me, that there's a lot of liberal folks in those other schools who that maybe we don't want to vote. Maybe we want to make it just a little more difficult. And I think that's a great idea," Hyde-Smith says on the tape.
In an email to The Washington Post, Melissa Scallan, the spokeswoman for Hyde-Smith’s campaign, said that Hyde-Smith made the comments while “talking to four freshmen at Mississippi State University about an idea to have polling places on college campuses.”
"That’s what she said was a great idea,” Scallan wrote. “Someone pointed out that college campuses were liberal and that’s when she made the joke about not wanting everyone to vote. That was a joke. The polling places on college campuses is what she said was a great idea."
She went on:
"The senator absolutely is not a racist and does not support voter suppression.”
Hyde-Smith's comments were swiftly condemned by Danny Blanton, the communications director for Democrat Mike Espy, whom Hyde-Smith will face in a runoff election on November 27.
“For a state like Mississippi, where voting rights were obtained through sweat and blood, everyone should appreciate that this is not a laughing matter,” Blanton said. “Mississippians deserve a senator who represents our best qualities, not a walking stereotype who embarrasses our state.”
Hyde-Smith's campaign responded soon afterward, saying: "It's ok to still have a sense of humor in America isn't it?"
The campaign added that students "enjoyed a laugh with Cindy despite out of state social media posts trying to mislead Mississippians."
Scallan claimed the video was "selectively edited" by members of "the liberal media."
“Obviously Sen. Hyde-Smith was making a joke and clearly the video was selectively edited,” Scallan said. “Now the liberal media wants to talk about anything other than Mike Espy’s record of corruption and taking $750,000 — and lying about it — from an African dictator now charged with war crimes, including murder, rape and torture.” (In August 1997, Espy was indicted on charges of receiving improper gifts, including sports tickets and lodging. He was acquitted of all 30 criminal charges in the trial the following year.)
The campaign's response did not go over well with individuals who further criticized Hyde-Smith for joking about attending a public hanging.
Hyde-Smith's joke during her runoff campaign about attending a public hanging drew heavy criticism given Mississippi's history of lynchings and public executions of African Americans.
Video of Hyde-Smith's remark was uploaded online by Lamar White Jr., the same journalist who recorded her comments on voter suppression.
“I referred to accepting an invitation to a speaking engagement,” Hyde-Smith said 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.”
When pressed further if she was aware of Mississippi's history of public lynchings, Hyde-Smith only said: “I put out a statement yesterday, and that’s all I’m going to say about it."
Hyde-Smith has been endorsed by President Donald Trump. She is facing Espy in the runoff to determine who will serve the remaining two years of Republican Senator Thad Cochran's term after he opted to step down due to health problems. Neither candidate earned 50 percent of the vote in the special election on November 6. If Epsy wins the runoff, he will become the first black senator to represent Mississippi since the Reconstruction era.