Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.) has said she is not participating in Senate special election debates because her schedule in Washington, D.C., is too full.
A newly leaked video tells a different story, however. An anonymously-recorded video clip shows Hyde-Smith telling someone there is political strategy behind her decision not to debate her opponents.
"I love debates," Hyde-Smith says in the clip. "But right now, my opponent does not have enough money to get on TV and my guys are saying that's like handing him a $200,000 campaign donation because he's way down in the polls and he's wanting TV time."
Hyde-Smith is presumably referring to her Republican opponent, state Sen. Chris McDaniel.
What's the story?
An anonymous source sent the video of Hyde-Smith to the McDaniel campaign, which then sent it to media outlets to point out Hyde-Smith's "lying."
"Cindy Hyde-Smith has been lying to the Mississippi voters, telling them that she can't debate because of her schedule, when in reality she's not doing it because she lacks the ability to answer difficult questions about her years as a D.C. lobbyist and her Democrat past," McDaniel said in a statement. "Her handlers know that once the people of Mississippi hear the truth, her support evaporates."
Hyde-Smith's scheduling reasoning had evaporated late last week anyway, when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced a fall recess until the Nov. 6 midterm elections.
The campaign then pivoted to expressing concerns about the behavior of McDaniel's supporters.
"She's not at all opposed to discussing issues and answering questions, but if she thinks it's not going to be civil, then she's going to be reluctant to do it, and [McDaniel] only has himself to blame for that," Hyde-Smith campaign spokeswoman Melissa Scallan told the Jackson Free Press.
Recent polls have shown that Democratic candidate Mike Espy has gained significant ground on Hyde-Smith in the past few months, bringing them into a virtual tie, with McDaniel trailing in third.
A candidate must earn 50 percent or more of the vote to win outright, otherwise the top two candidates will advance to a run-off.