JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - A Mississippi Democrat who was President Bill Clinton's first agriculture secretary officially announced his candidacy for U.S. Senate on Friday, saying he'll run in a special election to finish the term started by longtime Republican Thad Cochran.
Mike Espy, also Mississippi's first African-American elected to Congress since Reconstruction, had already said he had a "strong intention" to run.
The 64-year-old Espy, who lives in the Jackson suburb of Ridgeland, said in a statement released by his campaign that, like Cochran, he wants to be a "calming voice" that appeals to all Mississippians.
"It is in this same spirit that I offer my candidacy - to rise above party and partisan wrangling in an effort to appeal to all Mississippians - as we unite to show the nation, at the end of this second decade of the 21st century - just how far we have come," Espy said in the statement.
Cochran, 80, retired Sunday, citing poor health. Gov. Phil Bryant appointed fellow Republican Cindy Hyde-Smith to temporarily succeed Cochran. She will be sworn in Monday and will run in a special election in November.
The special election winner will serve until January 2021. Besides Espy and Hyde-Smith, two other candidates have announced: Republican state Sen. Chris McDaniel of Ellisville and Democratic Tupelo Mayor Jason Shelton. Candidates won't be identified by party on the ballot, but they are allowed to tell voters their political affiliation.
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. Born in Yazoo City, Espy is a member of a prominent family that built a chain of funeral homes across Mississippi's Delta region, giving them contacts in African-American communities. Espy also appealed to white farmers who underpin the region's struggling economy, and that agricultural focus led Clinton to name Espy to his Cabinet. Espy was indicted for illegally accepting gifts and favors while secretary and trying to cover it up, but was later acquitted at trial of all charges. Jurors said prosecutors never proved Espy had any criminal intent or delivered any favor as a result of the gifts.
Since the verdict, Espy has worked as a lawyer. He would be the third African-American to serve as a U.S. senator from Mississippi.
Mississippi also has a regularly scheduled election this year for a six-year Senate term.
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