During the 1980s and early 1990s, I worked in Montgomery, Alabama for the two daily newspapers, the Alabama Journal and the Montgomery Advertiser. The publisher, the boss, was a guy named Doyle Harvill. While I was still working there, the always colorful Harvill resigned to accept the job of publisher of the Tampa (Fla.) Tribune. Soon after Doyle arrived on the job in Tampa, a reporter from the slick city magazine called and asked for an appointment to interview him. Harvill didn’t return the phone call. The reporter called again and again, and finally Harvill told Patricia, his gate keeper, to put the call through to his phone. Harvill answered in his usual gruff, intimidating manner. The reporter stated his business. Harvill, who at that time had been in the newspaper business for over 40 years, roared, “I don’t talk to reporters” and hung up.
President Donald Trump will fly to Mississippi today to try to salvage a United States Senate seat for his party and his agenda. It will be the second visit he has made here for that purpose.
Six months ago it would have seemed a sure bet that another Republican would replace Senator Thad Cochran.
However, Governor Phil Bryant appointed Cindy Hyde-Smith to hold Cochran’s Senate seat temporarily. Thus she became the anointed one. Although the election for Cochran’s permanent replacement would be non-partisan, Hyde-Smith was clearly the standard-bearer for the state’s Republican establishment.
State Senator Chris McDaniel entered the race. But he had alienated the establishment Republicans in his 2014 attempt to unseat Cochran.
Mike Espy, President Bill Clinton’s first Secretary of Agriculture joined the race. But he had left that office under an apparent ethical cloud. Espy was acquitted of all charges after a trial by a jury. However, the fact that he was accused has been used against him repeatedly by the Hyde-Smith campaign. The smart money said Espy didn’t have a chance of winning in heavily Republican Mississippi.
Hyde-Smith and Espy survived the first vote and are in a run-off election tomorrow.
If Hyde-Smith had followed the example of President William McKinley’s 1896 campaign and limited her campaigning to her own front porch, she might have won handily.
Instead, she took to the hustings and made a vigorous statewide campaign, making speeches and meeting the voters. She seems like a nice person and is likeable. However, the words that spill from her mouth have tripped her up time after time.
A Democrat until 2010, Hyde-Smith said she could not remember who she voted for in the 2008 Mississippi presidential primary. The two Democratic candidates who still had a chance of winning the nomination when the primary was held on March 11, 2008, were Hillary Clinton and Barak Obama. Neither of them would have enjoyed the good favor of most Mississippi voters. She asserted repeatedly that she had “not voted for Hillary Clinton.” Time after time she just couldn’t remember which Democrat she supported for the presidency.
Saturday afternoon, November 24, Hyde-Smith made a previously unscheduled campaign appearance in New Albany. Sue Morrisson, the resourceful president of the Union County Republican Women, did her usual good job. On short notice, Morrisson rounded up about 60 people to hear Hyde-Smith speak at the Magnolia Room of the civic center.
National television camera crews, including NBC and Salon.com, had followed Hyde-Smith’s big campaign bus, (which featured a huge color photograph of her sitting with President Trump in the backseat of the presidential limousine). She did not take questions at earlier stops, but news reporters were assured she would answer their questions at her New Albany appearance.
She finished her short speech to the New Albany faithful, said she was going to go around the room and visit with people, and, again, did not invite questions from reporters.
However before she left the podium, this reporter asked her a simple question: “Senator, who did you vote for in the 2007 MS governor’s race?”
She quickly and vigorously declared, “I did not vote for Hillary Clinton.” Mrs. Clinton, of course, was not a candidate for Mississippi governor that year. The 2007 race was between Republican incumbent Haley Barbour and Democrat John Arthur Eaves, Jr. Hyde-Smith ran successfully as a Democrat for the state senate in that same 2007 general election. Whether she voted for the Republican or Democrat is still unknown, but one is inclined to believe her assertion that she “did not vote for Hillary Clinton” for Mississippi governor.
Her campaign has had two consistent themes: Hyde-Smith promises that she will always, without fail, support the agenda of President Trump. And she consistently declares that she “did not vote for Hillary Clinton” in 2008 (or in 2007). That’s about it.
Standing in front of the Tupelo city hall during the campaign, Hyde-Smith declared that she would go with cattleman Colin Hutchinson, “If he invited me to a public hanging, I’d be in the front row.” That would not have been the wisest utterance for a political candidate in Mississippi, but probably not a big deal.
However, when Espy’s campaign called attention to her reference to a public hanging, she adamantly and repeatedly refused to apologize. That made it a big deal. Fairly or not, the Espy campaign and national news reporters repeatedly called attention to the hanging remark. And Hyde-Smith still refused to express any regrets about it. Her office did issue a press release saying that she intended no hatred by the remark and merely said it to emphasize her regard for Hutchinson.
She compounded the problem on November 12, when she appeared at a press conference with Governor Bryant. Reporters kept asking her if she regretted the hanging remark. Five times during the press conference she only answered by stating, “I put out a statement yesterday and that’s all I’m gonna say about it.” Five times. The governor gallantly and calmly tried to come to her rescue. Talk about the hanging remark continued to grow.
Then there was the statement in Starkville about preventing “liberals” from voting.” Again, not a big deal, but she is running for the United States Senate, not to represent Lincoln County in the state senate of Mississippi.
Hyde-Smith should have had a sure lock on the race, but she and her supporters, including the President of the United States, are still trying help her overcome her own words. Some polls are said to show Espy within five percentage points of her in the likely vote.
Has the criticism of Hyde-Smith’s gaffes been unfair, “dirty politics?” Maybe.
Although Espy may make it close, I’d wager that Hyde-Smith will win the election. We’ll see. President T. is going to fly to her rescue again today.
If she wins, we believe she might be able to serve Mississippi honorably, if, perhaps, not with distinction. If she is a rubber stamp, a vote in Trump’s pocket, many of her constituents would not object. Making stupid statements again and again does not necessarily mean she’s a stupid person. A lot of smart people do and say stupid things over and over.
If the President pulls her fat out of the fire, if she is elected to the U.S. Senate, Hyde-Smith might consider following the example of James O. Eastland, an extremely smart man who delivered many good things to Mississippi during his three decades in the U.S. Senate. Big Jim had a simple and consistent policy: AVOID MAKING PUBLIC SPEECHES and DON’T TALK TO NEWS REPORTERS!
As the competence of the national news media continues to decline along with public respect for it, maintaining silence in public just might work for Cindy Hyde-Smith in the 21st century, as it did for Senator Eastland in the 20th century.