Earlier this month in Tupelo, Mississippi, Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith joked with a group of potential voters when she said she would be happy to attend a “pubic hanging” with a supporter. After a ten-second clip of her talk emerged recently on Facebook (to much outrage) Hyde-Smith branded any criticism of her remark as “ridiculous.”
Cindy Hyde-Smith’s innocent remark about executions
On November 2nd during a campaign stop in Tupelo, Senator Hyde-Smith spoke to an informal group of supporters. With her arm wrapped around a man named Colin Hutchison, she sang his praises saying, “If he invited me to a public hanging, I’d be on the front row.”
A ten-second clip of the speech (much of it drowned out by an ill-timed air-horn blast from a passing train) surfaced on the personal account of Louisiana journalist Lamar White Jr on Sunday.
This attention has annoyed the Hyde-Smith campaign. In an issued statement the Senator said:
“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.”
Why is there still a campaign on?
Despite the fact that most candidates ended their campaigning last week on election day, Cindy Hyde-Smith is still in the middle of a hard-fought contest to keep her seat.
Hyde-Smith was appointed to her US Senate seat in March following the resignation of Thad Cochran, and is now fighting a special election that will not finish until November 27th.
A four-way non-partisan primary was held on November 6th, which Hyde-Smith won with 41% of the vote. If she can somehow capture the 16% of the primary votes cast for fellow-Republican Chris McDaniel she should win easily. But turnout for a race held just weeks after a much-hyped midterm election is highly unpredictable, especially as many casual voters are expected to have lost interest as media attention has waned.
The media are still asking questions about hanging
On Monday Hyde-Smith attended a press conference to receive the backing of Governor Phil Bryant and National Right to Life President Carol Tobias, but the media brought up the issue of her public hanging comment again.
The Senator replied by referring journalists to her previously issued statement, but Governor Bryant chose to speak out in her defense.
“When you make as many public speeches as we do in public life that does occur,” he said. “But I know this woman and I know her heart, I knew it when I appointed her and I know it now. She meant no offense by that statement, there is nothing in her heart of ill will.”
Then, questioning the motivation of the video taker, the Governor continued.
“Remember we are in the middle of a political campaign. Those that oppose Cindy Hyde-Smith will take advantage of this. You might want to ask yourself where the video came from. I’m not blaming the person that took it but it was clearly designed for political purpose.”
Loose lips sink campaigns
There is nothing in Cindy Hyde-Smith’s original remarks to indicate she actually supports the idea of public hangings in any way. If anything, the quip only makes sense if the audience understands she would not normally want to attend one, let alone sit on the first row.
The days when candidates can make extremely ill-judged remarks during a campaign and expect it to go unnoticed are long past, however. Republicans have been just as keen as Democrats to use gaffes by their opponents to their advantage.
Knowing this is the case, and knowing that as a sitting US Senator her every word is analyzed for any possible advantage by her political rivals, the bigger issue is perhaps Cindy Hyde-Smith’s judgement rather than any perceived support for public executions. Being able to filter out controversial (and unnecessary) turns of phrase from public pronouncements is seen more and more a basic requirement for running for office.
Senator Hyde-Smith could perhaps do worse than take heed to Governor Bryant’s statement to the press on Monday, when he said, “Remember, we are in the middle of a political campaign.”