Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, R-Miss., speaks to supporters of her campaign during an election night party she shared with fellow Republican U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, right, in Jackson, Miss., Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018. Hyde-Smith, who was appointed to the seat, is in a Nov. 27 runoff against Mike Espy in this non-partisan race. The winner will serve the last two years of the six-year term vacated when Republican Thad Cochran retired for health reasons. (Sarah Warnock/The Clarion-Ledger via AP)

Ad uses lynching photo to slam senator's 'hanging' remark

November 15, 2018 - 7:15 pm

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — A political ad uses a 1930 photo of a white crowd in Indiana posing around a tree as the lifeless bodies of two black men hang above them, lynched in nooses. The ad superimposes an unrelated photo of a current white senator from Mississippi as text appears: "This is where U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith would like to be."

The ad on Facebook is paid for by PowerPACPlus, a California-based political action committee that has spent nearly $1.8 million in other advertising to support Mike Espy, Hyde-Smith's Democratic challenger in a Nov. 27 runoff.

Espy is seeking to become Mississippi's first black U.S. senator since Reconstruction.

A video that surfaced Sunday shows Hyde-Smith at a Nov. 2 campaign event praising a supporter by saying: "If he invited me to a public hanging, I'd be on the front row." She said the phrase was "an exaggerated expression of regard" for the supporter and "any attempt to turn this into a negative connotation is ridiculous."

Hyde-Smith's remark has brought widespread criticism both inside and outside Mississippi, a state with a history of racially motivated lynchings.

Both Espy and the Hyde-Smith campaign are condemning the ad.

"This is the same out-of-state group that is spending millions of dollars promoting Mike Espy and has now taken his campaign to the lowest depths imaginable," Hyde-Smith campaign spokeswoman Melissa Scallan said in a statement. "It is time for Mike Espy to tell his group to end this appalling, divisive attack."

Espy said Thursday in Jackson that his campaign does not control what PowerPACPlus does, but he wants the group to remove the ad.

"I thought that it was not helpful," Espy said. "I can't make them pull it down because we didn't ask them to put it up. ... It's racially divisive. It's something that we didn't endorse, and we'd like them to pull it down."

Under federal campaign laws, super PACs are not allowed to coordinate with candidates.

The PowerPACPlus website says the group's mission is "to build the political power of America's multiracial majority."

Marvin Randolph, spokesman for PowerPACPlus, said Thursday that the ad with the lynching image is the first in a series of online ads that will be supported by at least $25,000 in spending.

"We expect to reach over a million viewers online," Randolph said. "This ad will also appear on Instagram and Twitter. We are still deciding whether to place it as a TV ad."

Hyde-Smith would not answer reporters' repeated questions about the "public hanging" comment Monday during a news conference at the Mississippi Republican Party headquarters.

The runoff winner will get the final two years of a six-year term started by Republican Thad Cochran. Republican Gov. Phil Bryant appointed Hyde-Smith to temporarily succeed Cochran when the longtime lawmaker retired in April.

Democrats haven't won a U.S. Senate seat in Mississippi since 1982, and Republicans hold most statewide offices. Both national parties are putting money and effort into the special election. Hyde-Smith and Espy each received about 41 percent in a four-person field Nov. 6 to advance to the runoff.

President Donald Trump has endorsed Hyde-Smith and traveled to Mississippi to campaign for her in October and could return to the state before the runoff.

Espy in 1986 became Mississippi's first black U.S. House member since Reconstruction. In 1993 and 1994, he was U.S. agriculture secretary.

Hyde-Smith is the first woman to represent Mississippi in either chamber of Congress,

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For AP's complete coverage of the U.S. midterm elections: http://apne.ws/APPolitics . Follow Emily Wagster Pettus on Twitter: http://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus .

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