Political News

Trump prepared to sit out Mississippi special election (for now)

Posted March 21, 2018 2:47 p.m. EDT

— President Donald Trump told Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant in a phone call this week that he would be sitting out the state's special election, an administration official tells CNN.

That means Trump does not plan to endorse or campaign for either Republican Cindy Hyde-Smith or Chris McDaniel in what is shaping up to be a hotly contested race. The official said that could change and that the White House would continue to monitor the contest.

Bryant tapped Hyde-Smith, the Mississippi Commissioner of Agriculture and Commerce, to replace Sen. Thad Cochran, who is retiring. McDaniel is a Mississippi State senator and conservative activist who is challenging Hyde-Smith for the reliably Republican seat.

"The President said he is not endorsing anyone in the primary at this time in Mississippi," the official said, noting that the decision is subject to change.

The official added that Trump doesn't have an issue with Hyde-Smith, but told the governor that he didn't want to get involved in what will likely be a contest race between the two Republicans.

"He is not going to be endorsing at this time," the official added. "It doesn't preclude anything in the future."

There won't be a party primary for the special election in Mississippi and the election will be non-partisan, with no party identification for the candidates on the ballot. If no candidate gets 50%, a runoff will be held.

Trump's decision to wade into the special election in Alabama last year looms over this decision. Trump endorsed Luther Strange in 2017, only to have the establishment-backed lawmaker lose in the primary to Republican Roy Moore. Then Trump endorsed Moore, who eventually lost to Democrat Doug Jones after women came forward to allege that Moore sexually abused them as teenagers.

Republicans, including Trump, urged Bryant to appoint himself to the seat vacated by Cochran's retirement, but the governor said no and opted to nominated Hyde-Smith, who was a Democrat as recently as 2010 when she served in the state Senate.

McDaniel, signaling how he will attack Hyde-Smith in the primary, went after her history as a Democrat on Wednesday.

"Before Commissioner Hyde-Smith was elected to lead the department of Agriculture, her only legislative experience was that of a Democrat. She ran as a Democrat. She served as a Democrat. She voted like a Democrat," McDaniel said. "Although her reputation in Jackson was that of a moderate Democrat, the last thing the state of Mississippi needs in Washington is another moderate Democrat."

Hyde-Smith, preparing for a fight against McDaniel, highlighted her conservatism on Wednesday.

"I've been conservative all of my life and that's demonstrated by my conservative voting record as a three-term state senator and my conservative accomplishments as Agriculture Commissioner," she said.

Her campaign later sent out a list of two dozen endorsements Hyde-Smith has received from an array of Republican lawmakers, including one from Bryant referring to her as a "rock-solid conservative."

White House officials declined to officially comment about Trump's view of the Mississippi race.