U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith and Democratic candidate Mike Espy are set to debate tonight, but that will happen without an audience or press present in the auditorium, the Jackson Free Press reported.
Only the debate’s moderator, panelists, and a production team will be allowed into the venue with the candidates, conditions demanded by the Hyde-Smith campaign, the paper reported. Tonight will be the first Mississippi U.S. Senate debate since 2008.
Hyde-Smith and Epsy were the top candidates to emerge from the Nov. 6 primaries. The runoff will take place Nov. 27.
Sources told the newspaper the debate organizer, Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation, left the decision to the candidates. The Espy team opposed the demands, but said they felt they had to accept them or there would potentially be no debate at all, the Jackson Free Press reported.
The election is an important one for Mississippi as the fight between the two candidates has become racially charged. Hyde-Smith, a Republican appointed to her position in March, has recently come under fire for questionable comments made along the campaign trail. The senator was caught on camera joking about making it harder for liberals to vote.
She was also filmed saying that if invited to a public hanging she’d “be on the front row,” an eyebrow-raising comment given the state’s history of lynching and the fact that Hyde-Smith, a Caucasian woman, faces off against Espy, an African-American man. Walmart and other corporate donors have retracted their support for Hyde-Smith after the comments.