Since Espy announced his intentions to run for the seat in early March on the same day Cochran announced his pending retirement, he has said very little publicly about his plans.

But Friday, Espy, a former U.S. House member and secretary of agriculture in the Bill Clinton administration, unveiled the campaign webpage with a lengthy statement outlining his qualifications, his background and his reasons for pursuing the seat.

In the statement, Espy praised Cochran, who served in the Senate from late 1978 until his retirement on April 1, for his ability to rise above “the chaos, acrimony and bitterness that characterizes so much of Washington today.”

He added, “It is in this same spirit that I offer my candidacy… in an effort to appeal to all Mississippians – as we unite to show the nation…just how far we have come.”

Espy, a Jackson-area attorney, was a resident of Clarksdale when he was elected to the U.S House in the 1980s. He was the first African American elected to Congress from the state since the 1800s.

“I believe in the worth of every Mississippian regardless of age, race, religion, gender, sexual orientation or varying level of disability,” he said. “God made us all in his image.

“My role as a public official is not to judge, but to assist every person to reach his or her God given ability.”

Espy is one of four candidates to announce plans to vie for the post in the Nov. 6 special election.

Gov. Phil Bryant already has appointed Cindy Hyde-Smith, the state commissioner of agriculture and commerce and a former state senator, to replace Cochran until the special election.

In an unexpected move, Tupelo Mayor Jason Shelton has announced he will run for the vacant seat. State Sen. Chris McDaniel of Ellisville, who nearly defeated Cochran in the 2014 Republican primary, also is vying for the post.

All candidates – Espy and Shelton on the Democratic side and Hyde-Smith and McDaniel on the Republican side – will be on the same ballot. If no candidate garners a majority vote, a runoff will be held between the top two vote-getters.

The deadline to qualify for the post is April 24. It is not clear whether other candidates will enter the race for only the second Senate vacancy in the state since 1988.

Earlier this week, a poll commissioned by Espy before Shelton entered the race showed him leading Hyde-Smith and McDaniel. Poll results, though, did not indicate the level of support needed to avoid a runoff.

In his announcement, Espy spoke of his family’s business and even touched on his indictment on charges of improperly accepting gifts from lobbyists as secretary of agriculture. A jury found Espy not guilty of those charges.

“This ordeal made me stronger, wiser and more humble and faithful – and I discovered in Mississippi, unlike Washington, people who know you the best would give you the benefit of the doubt,” he said.

Both Hyde-Smith and McDaniel already have had public events to kick off their campaign. It is not clear if, and when, Shelton and Espy will do the same.

— By Bobby Harrison / Daily Journal