Veteran Republican Sen. Thad Cochran says he doesn't know much about the tea party or his tea-party-backed Mississippi challenger Chris McDaniel, refueling criticism that the incumbent is "out of touch."
While stumping Monday at a steel plant in Flowood, Cochran, 76, said he was "trying to be sure that we understand the problems confronting us" and "come up with good answers to what we can to assure a bright future for our people," WLOX TV reported
But he also acknowledged: "The tea party, you know, is something I don't really know a lot about," adding: "It's a free country. We have open opportunities for people to participate in the election process."
Asked specifically about his rival, a 41-year-old lawyer with strong support from tea party groups, Cochran conceded: "Really haven't looked at his characteristics. I'm just running my campaign, based on my qualifications to continue to serve as a United States senator."
Cochran is seeking a seventh term in the Senate, and has the backing of Gov. Phil Bryant and other Republican state officials. If he wins, he will be eligible to remain in the Senate until shortly after his 83rd birthday.
McDaniel on Tuesday slammed Cochran's remarks as "a shame, because the tea party is a mass movement of people that really care about this country," WLOX reported.
"The tea party matters. They care for their country," McDaniel added in remarks to The Associated Press. "These are conservative voters who feel like they're not being heard."
On his Facebook page
, McDaniel wrote Tuesday evening: "It's time Thad Cochran met the Tea Party," linking to a report in The Hill
of the conservative Club for Growth's new Internet ad for McDaniel, which hammers on the same theme.
Earlier Tuesday, McDaniel said the fact that Cochran "doesn't know me or is not paying attention goes to show he hasn't been in the state very often," WLOX reported.
"Anyone who refuses to balance the budget is out of touch," he added. "Anyone who votes for tax increases is out of touch. The people of this state have demanded that he be a conservative. To that extent, yes, his record is not conservative. So, he's out of touch."
Cochran called the accusation "flat wrong," WLOX reported. "I'm as in touch with the people of Mississippi as an elected official can be."
McDaniel is pushing for a debate before the June GOP primary, WLOX reported.
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