Ahead of the midterm elections, Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS) attended a speaking event and, in thanking a cattle rancher for his support, said: “If he invited me to a public hanging, I’d be on the front row.”
A few weeks later, and after a video depicting the comment was made public, Hyde-Smith’s campaign received a $2,000 donation from Walmart, according to documents filed with the Federal Election Commission. Walmart’s PAC has donated more than $2 million to other PACs and candidates for this election season, 51 percent of which has gone to Republican-affiliated groups and nominees, and 40 percent to Democrats.
As Hyde-Smith continues to deflect questions on her remarks, though, many national campaign contributors, including Walmart, are asking for their money back.
In a Twitter response to actress Debra Messing, who shared a Popular Information piece on Walmart’s donation, the multinational retail company responded that they “completely understand [her] concern,” and will see that they retract their donation.
“Sen. Hyde-Smith’s recent comments clearly do not reflect the values of our company and associates,” Walmart tweeted Tuesday morning. “As a result, we are withdrawing our support and requesting a refund of all campaign donations.”
But Walmart is not alone — several firms are taking a stance on Hyde-Smith’s views and are, in turn, retracting their contributions. Among them are railroad company Union Pacific and defense contractor Leidos, which both recently donated $5,000 to Hyde-Smith’s campaign, as well as manufacturer Boston Scientific, which donated $2,500.
“Union Pacific in no way, shape or form condones or supports divisive or perceived to be divisive statements,” a company tweet reads. “Our contribution was mailed prior to Hyde-Smith’s statement being made public. Union Pacific will request a refund of our contribution.”
Hyde-Smith’s Senate campaign also received a $5,000 donation from Google, according to FED documents. Though the technology company has not made a public statement about retracting their donation, Google said in an email statement that the contribution was made on November 2, before Hyde-Smith’s remarks became public.
“While we support candidates who promote pro-growth policies for business and technology, we do not condone these remarks and would not have made such a contribution had we known about them,” a Google spokesperson told me.
Google had previously donated $10,000 to the Making America Prosperous PAC, which in turn gave a cash infusion to Republican Rep. Steve King, a reelected controversial figure that many sponsors abandoned following his embrace of white nationalism.
Hyde-Smith, a Republican incumbent, received the highest number of votes in a Senate special election on November 6, taking in 41.4 percent of the vote to 40.4 percent against her Democratic challenger, former US Rep. Mike Espy, who is black. The two will compete in a November 27 runoff for the seat.
Video of Hyde-Smith’s lynching remarks was released on social media last weekend, causing national uproar against the senator.
But Hyde-Smith never once backed down from her remarks. She issued a statement on November 11 that provided the context around her comments but nonetheless stood by them.
“I referred to accepting an invitation to a speaking engagement,” Hyde-Smith, also a former cattle rancher, said in the statement. “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.”
Since then, Hyde-Smith has time and time again avoided questions on her “public hanging” comment, directing reporters to the Sunday statement instead.
Espy’s campaign called Hyde Smith’s comments “reprehensible.”
“They have no place in our political discourse, in Mississippi, or our country,” campaign spokesperson Danny Blanton said in a statement. “We need leaders, not dividers, and her words show that she lacks the understanding and judgment to represent the people of our state.”
In 1986, Espy became the first black candidate from Mississippi to be elected in the US House of Representatives since Reconstruction. Now he’s vying to make history again by becoming the state’s first black senator.
Espy and incumbent Hyde-Smith are running for a seat previously left vacant by Republican Sen. Thad Cochran, who retired in April amid health concerns. Hyde-Smith, the first woman in either chamber of Congress to represent the Magnolia State, was tapped by Gov. Phil Bryant to temporarily succeed Cochran.
Hyde-Smith was near-certain to last the two years left in the Senate term; the majority of the electorate that voted for the other Republican nominee in the special election, Chris McDaniel, would have likely cast their ballots for Hyde-Smith in the runoff, handing her the victory.
However, Hyde-Smith’s “joke” struck a chord in the deep-red Southern state — with some wondering whether it will now cost her the race.
Mississippi has a troubling history of racially charged lynchings. According to the NAACP website, America witnessed a total of 4,743 lynchings between 1882 and 1968, nearly 73 percent of which were of black men and women. Mississippi topped the list of states with the highest number of public hangings, all in the deep South, with 581.
The national NAACP president Derrick Johnson, who is from Mississippi, tweeted on November 11 that Hyde-Smith’s “shameful remarks prove once again how Trump has created a climate that normalizes hateful, racist rhetoric from political candidates.”
Ever since, Hyde-Smith has continued to attract negative press, with a short social media clip showing her endorsing voter suppression going viral Thursday.
In the video, which comes from a November 3 campaign stop in Starkville, the Mississippi candidate appears to say “that there’s a lot of liberal folks in those other schools who that maybe we don’t want to vote. Maybe we want to make it just a little more difficult. So I think that’s a great idea.”
Her campaign later released a statement saying the senator was “making a joke” and that the video was “selectively edited.”
President Donald Trump has endorsed Hyde-Smith’s candidacy, writing that she helped him “put America First” and supported many aspects of his conservative agenda, including immigration policies at the US-Mexico border and the nominations of Supreme Court Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh. Trump carried Mississippi by nearly 18 points in the 2016 election.