BROOKHAVEN, Miss. (AP/WTVA) — The governor of Mississippi appointed state Agriculture Commissioner Cindy Hyde-Smith on Wednesday to succeed fellow Republican Thad Cochran in the U.S. Senate.
Cochran, who is 80, is stepping down April 1 because of poor health. Hyde-Smith, 58, would be the first woman to represent Mississippi in Congress. She will immediately begin campaigning for a Nov. 6 nonpartisan special election to fill the rest of Cochran's term, which expires in January 2020.
Hyde-Smith thanked Gov. Phil Bryant for entrusting her with the appointment to the Senate.
"I pledge to you to serve all of our citizens with dignity, honor and respect," she said.
She pledged to work closely with Mississippi's other Republican senator, Roger Wicker, and to promote President Donald Trump's agenda. In 2016, she was one of many agriculture advisers to Trump's presidential campaign. She praised his administration for cutting regulations on businesses.
“Governor Phil Bryant has made an excellent and historic pick in Cindy Hyde-Smith to be our next United States Senator. She served admirably in the Mississippi Senate and as our Commissioner of Agriculture, and I know she will be an effective, conservative Senator from day one. I look forward to being her colleague and working with her to serve all Mississippians," Wicker stated.
Bryant is also a Trump supporter and has said he believes the president will campaign for his Senate appointee in the special election, which could attract several candidates.
Chris McDaniel, a tea party-backed state senator who nearly unseated Cochran in a bruising 2014 Republican primary, said last week that he is running in the special election. Democrat Mike Espy, who was President Bill Clinton's first agriculture secretary, also intends to run. Espy in 1986 became the first African-American in modern times to win a congressional seat in Mississippi, and he has publicly supported both Democrats and Republicans in various races.
Cochran's resignation creates two Senate races this year in Mississippi as Republicans are trying to maintain their slim Senate majority. Although it is a deeply conservative state, Democrats are hoping to capitalize on divisions among Republicans in hopes of winning a Nov. 27 runoff, if there is one.
“I congratulate Governor Bryant on his historic selection of Cindy Hyde-Smith to represent Mississippi in the United States Senate. She is a very well-qualified person whose experiences and excellent character will benefit our state in Washington," Cochran stated.
Hyde-Smith grew up in the small town of Monticello in southern Mississippi, and farmer Barbara Lowe, who still lives there, has known her for decades.
"Cindy has always been a people person, has always wanted to help and do for everybody," Lowe, 67, said Wednesday outside a former train depot in downtown Brookhaven, where more the 200 people gathered for the Senate announcement.
Hyde-Smith served 12 years as a Democrat in the state Senate from her rural district before switching to the Republican Party in late 2010.
In 2011, she won a three-way GOP primary for agriculture commissioner without a runoff. She beat Democratic opponents even more easily in the 2011 and 2015 general elections.
Hyde-Smith is one of only four women ever elected to statewide office in Mississippi. It and Vermont are the only two U.S. states that never have elected a woman to Congress.
Bryant has said he was focused on naming a senator who could serve at least 20 years. Mississippi has a tradition of sending the same people to Washington for decades to build seniority and influence. Cochran is in his second stint as chairman of the powerful Appropriations Committee.