AP sources: MS gov will name Hyde-Smith to Senate vacancy

Published 10:35 am Tuesday, March 20, 2018

JACKSON (AP) — Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant is preparing to fill an upcoming vacancy in the U.S. Senate, and three state Republican sources told The Associated Press that he will choose the state agriculture commissioner who helped advise Donald Trump’s presidential campaign in 2016.

Bryant, a supporter of President Trump, plans to appear Wednesday in the south Mississippi city of Brookhaven to announce a temporary successor for longtime Sen. Thad Cochran. The 80-year-old veteran senator is retiring April 1 because of poor health.

Brookhaven is the hometown of Cindy Hyde-Smith, a Republican and cattle farmer who was first elected agriculture commissioner in 2011. She is the first woman to serve as agriculture commissioner in the largely rural state, and would be the first woman to represent Mississippi in Congress.

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The sources who said Bryant would appoint Hyde-Smith spoke on condition of anonymity because the announcement was not yet official.

Hyde-Smith, 58, would immediately begin campaigning for the Nov. 6 special election to fill the rest of Cochran’s term, which expires in January 2020. She could call for support from agricultural interests, which are strong in Mississippi. During the 2016 presidential campaign, Hyde-Smith served on a large agriculture advisory committee for Trump.

Tea party-backed Republican state Sen. Chris McDaniel and Democrat Mike Espy — President Bill Clinton’s first agriculture secretary — also intend to run in the special election. Hyde-Smith is expected to be backed by the national and Mississippi GOP establishment as Republicans try to maintain their slim Senate majority.

Other candidates could yet join the special Senate race. If no one wins a majority Nov. 6, a runoff would be Nov. 27.

Marvin King, a political scientist at the University of Mississippi, said Hyde-Smith is “a safe pick that won’t rankle.”

“She’ll be able to plant herself as the ‘responsible conservative’ who will follow Cochran’s legacy in looking out for Mississippi, first things first,” King said.