JACKSON, Miss. (AP) – Former U.S. Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy won the Democratic nomination for a U.S. Senate seat in Mississippi on Tuesday, setting up a rematch with Republican Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, an outspoken ally of President Donald Trump.
Republicans hold most major offices in Mississippi, which hasn’t had a Democrat in the U.S. Senate since 1989.
Hyde-Smith was unopposed for the Republican nomination this year. She is the first woman to represent Mississippi in either chamber of Congress.
She was appointed to serve temporarily in the Senate when Republican Thad Cochran retired amid health concerns in early 2018. She and Espy were the final two candidates in a hard-fought special election later that year to occupy Cochran’s seat for the remaining two years of the six-year term. Hyde-Smith defeated Espy in a runoff in November 2018.
On Tuesday, Espy defeated two candidates in the Democratic primary. Tobey Bernard Bartee is a former military intelligence officer who ran unsuccessfully against Hyde-Smith, Espy and one other candidate in the 2018 special election. The second candidate, former teacher Jensen Bohren, ran unsuccessfully in 2018 against Mississippi’s other Republican U.S. senator, Roger Wicker.
Libertarian candidate Jimmy Edwards will also be on the ballot for the Senate race in November.
In the final days leading up to the runoff with Espy in 2018, a video showed Hyde-Smith praising a supporter at a campaign appearance by making the remark that she would attend a “public hanging” if the man invited her. That prompted widespread criticism that Hyde-Smith was being insensitive in a state with a history of lynchings of African Americans. Hyde-Smith said it was “an exaggerated expression of regard” for the supporter.
In 1986, Espy became Mississippi’s first African American congressman since Reconstruction. In 1993, President Bill Clinton named him agriculture secretary.