JACKSON – Republican Cindy Hyde-Smith, the state’s commissioner of agriculture and commerce, is expected to be named by Gov. Phil Bryant during a news conference today in Brookhaven as the interim replacement for Thad Cochran in the United States Senate.

Hyde-Smith, 58 of Brookhaven, would be the first woman to serve the state as a member of the U.S. House or Senate. As the interim senator, Hyde-Smith is expected to run in the November special election that will be held to elect a replacement to complete Cochran’s current term that ends in January 2021.

The governor announced late Tuesday that a news conference would take place at noon in Brookhaven today where he said he would make an announcement regarding the vacancy being created by Cochran’s retirement. Multiple sources have said Hyde-Smith would be appointed.

Hyde-Smith served 12 years in the state Senate – mostly as a Democrat before switching parties to run and win the open seat of agriculture commissioner in 2011. She was easily re-elected in 2015.

State Sen. Chris McDaniel of Jones County, who narrowly lost to Cochran in the 2014 Republican primary and has announced he is running for the vacancy, refused to comment on the pending Hyde-Smith announcement, saying he would wait until it was official.

Mike Espy, the first African American in the 20th century elected to the U.S. House from Mississippi and the former agriculture secretary in the Bill Clinton administration in the 1990s, has already announced his intention to run for the post.

There is the possibility others will enter the special election where the candidates will run together with no party affiliation. If no candidate garners a majority vote, the top two vote-getters will advance to a runoff.

The setup of the special election has placed added pressure on the governor to make an appointment who would be able to win the November election.

Many believe that McDaniel and the gubernatorial appointment would split the Republican vote, giving Espy a strong chance to be in the top two vote-getters and advance to the runoff. McDaniel is running as an anti-establishment Republican, critical of many in Washington, D.C., such as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Speculation has been rampant in recent weeks about whom Bryant might appoint to the Senate vacancy, ranging from Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves to Speaker Philip Gunn to Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann.

Various people have said that Reeves had indicated he was not interested in the post. Published reports had indicated that Washington Republicans, such as McConnell and President Donald Trump, wanted Bryant to appoint himself. They viewed him as the safest pick for Republicans as they battle to maintain control of the U.S. Senate this election cycle. Bryant resisted those overtures, but also had harsh works for McDaniel when he announced he would run for the vacant seat.

Hyde-Smith, a cattle farmer, has been vocal as agriculture commissioner on such issues as ensuring the labeling of American-raised catfish.

“I think she was a great state senator,” said Sen. Gray Tollison, R-Oxford, who served three terms with Hyde-Smith. “She worked on ag issues. She was very knowledgeable. She is a good person. I think people will be very receptive to her.”

Tollison, who like Hyde-Smith changed parties, said he does not believe the party switch will be an issue with voters. According to published reports from as late as 2008, Hyde-Smith voted in the Democratic primary where, among others, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were on the presidential ballot.

Cochran, 80, who has been in the Senate since 1978 and prior to that served six years in the U.S. House representing portions of the Jackson area and southwest Mississippi, announced earlier this year he would retire on April 1 because of health issues.

bobby.harrison@journalinc.com Twitter: @bobbyharrison9

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