Her campaign said Thursday that the senator was joking and that the video had been altered.
“Obviously Sen. Hyde-Smith was making a joke and clearly the video was selectively edited,” said Melissa Scallan, spokeswoman for Hyde-Smith’s campaign. “Now the liberal media wants to talk about anything other than Mike Espy’s record of corruption and taking $750,000 — and lying about it — from an African dictator now charged with war crimes, including murder, rape and torture.”
Hyde-Smith is facing a Nov. 27 runoff against Democrat Mike Espy, and her campaign has been reeling from another remark caught on camera in which she joked about a “public hanging.”
In an email to The Washington Post, Scallan said Hyde-Smith’s comments about voting came on Nov. 3 while the senator was “talking to four freshmen at Mississippi State University about an idea to have polling places on college campuses.”
“That’s what she said was a great idea,” Scallan wrote. “Someone pointed out that college campuses were liberal and that’s when she made the joke about not wanting everyone to vote. That was a joke. The polling places on college campuses is what she said was a great idea.”
Scallan added: “The senator absolutely is not a racist and does not support voter suppression.”
Espy’s communications director, Danny Blanton, said Hyde-Smith talking about voter suppression was “not a laughing matter” and called her a “walking stereotype.”
In 2013, the Supreme Court invalidated a key part of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, effectively allowing officials in Southern states such as Mississippi to change election laws without federal approval.
“For a state like Mississippi, where voting rights were obtained through sweat and blood, everyone should appreciate that this is not a laughing matter,” Blanton said. “Mississippians deserve a senator who represents our best qualities, not a walking stereotype who embarrasses our state.”
Smith found more trouble on Friday when she tweeted out a photo, apparently taken around the time she made the remark, with two students from the school in an attempt to deflect criticism for the incident.
“It’s ok to still have a sense of humor in America isn’t it,” she wrote. “These students enjoyed a laugh with Cindy despite out of state social media posts trying to mislead Mississippians.”
But a man who said that he was one of the students in the photo reacted sharply to her use of his image, saying he did not support Hyde-Smith and believed she had only posted it because he is black.
“As a Political Science major I want to understand and inform myself about every candidate. But I do not, however, support Cindy Hyde Smith. I am disgusted,” JR Coleman wrote on Twitter. “We were not laughing in regards to her terrible statements, and I don’t appreciate this post trying to make it seem so.”
A JR Coleman at the school did not respond to an immediate request for comment sent to his email address.
Hyde-Smith’s tweet was deleted after Coleman responded.
The video was posted Thursday by Lamar White Jr., a blogger and journalist who also shared the video of Hyde-Smith in which the senator is heard joking that if she were invited to a public hanging, she’d “be on the front row.”
After the “public hanging” video went viral, Hyde-Smith suggested in that statement that she was using an “exaggerated expression of regard.”
She was reluctant to apologize or provide more context for her remark when she was questioned by reporters at a news conference Monday.
“I put out a statement yesterday, and that’s all I’m going to say about it,” Hyde-Smith said when asked by reporters whether she was familiar with the history of hangings in Mississippi. She was also asked whether the phrasing was in her everyday vocabulary and to specify why the remark should not be viewed with a negative connotation.
Hyde-Smith, who has been endorsed by Trump, became the first woman to represent Mississippi in Congress in April after she was appointed to replace Republican Sen. Thad Cochran, who stepped down because of health problems.
She is facing Espy, a black Democrat, in a runoff to determine who will serve the remaining two years of Cochran’s term. Neither candidate was able to win more than 50 percent of the vote in the Nov. 6 special election.
Espy and Hyde-Smith had the top two vote tallies, each receiving about 41 percent. If Espy were to win, he would become the first black senator to represent the state since the Reconstruction era. Espy served three terms in the House of Representatives, from 1987 to 1993.
Many critics of Hyde-Smith’s “public lynching” comment noted the history of racism and hangings in the state. Statistics from the NAACP show that nearly one-eighth of the 4,743 lynchings between 1882 and 1968 in the United States took place in Mississippi.
“Hyde-Smith’s decision to joke about ‘hanging,’ when the history of African Americans is marred by countless incidents of this barbarous act, is sick,” NAACP President Derrick Johnson said in a statement. “Any politician seeking to serve as a national voice of the people of Mississippi should know better.”
Hyde-Smith is a former Democratic state senator and agriculture commissioner. In 2010, she switched to the Republican Party, according to the Clarion Ledger. She recently vowed to keep pushing Trump’s agenda, asserting that “Republicans are going to keep this seat” and that she would “fight like nobody’s business the next three weeks.”
Eli Rosenberg contributed to this report.