With just over a week to go before the nationally-watched run-off election in Mississippi June 24, signs strongly point to defeat for 36-year incumbent Sen. Thad Cochran, his state's first Republican senator since Reconstruction and possibly the next chairman of the all-powerful Senate Appropriations Committee if the GOP take control of the Senate this fall.
According to two just-completed polls, Cochran trails conservative State Sen. and tea party favorite Chris McDaniel, who made headlines nationwide when he outpolled the veteran senator in the initial primary last month.
A recent Chism Strategies poll
shows McDaniel beating Cochran by a margin of 50.6 percent to 47.6 percent among likely voters, while a National Strategic poll
showed McDaniel ahead of the senator by 52 percent to 46 percent.
Coming on the heels of fellow insurgent Dave Brat’s defeat of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in Virginia's 7th District, McDaniel could make Cochran the first incumbent senator from Mississippi to lose a primary since 1942. A McDaniel's win would be cited by the press worldwide as evidence that tea party-style anti-establishment politics is alive and well among Republicans.
In an exclusive interview with Newsmax last week, McDaniel, 41, predicted flatly that "I will defeat Thad Cochran." The people of Mississippi, he told us, "are conservative and we led in the primary because we took our message to them. They were energized and motivated to turn out then, and they will be even more energized and motivated to vote on June 24."
"The money was coming in strong even before the primary, when people thought we might just do it," he said, "and since the primary, there have been more and more volunteers coming to help us at headquarters. They appreciate our message of restoring the constitution and reawakening the people to the dangers of big government. And they realize that Sen. Cochran is not a conservative and has not raised a voice against the liberal agenda.
"So right now, we've come from the impossible and the improbable to the unstoppable."
Cochran and supporters like former Gov. and Republican National Chairman Haley Barbour are clearly nervous about McDaniel's momentum. Politico reported recently that Cochran's post-primary strategy "will involve reaching out to casual voters — including independents and Democrats — to swell the electorate with Mississippians who may not have participated in this week’s first round of voting."
In addition, former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Napster co-founder Sean Parker, both major bankrollers of liberal causes, recently donated $250,000 each to a super PAC
backing Cochran. The support of Bloomberg, one of the nation's best-known gun control advocates, is particularly incongruous, given Cochran's endorsement from the National Rifle Association.
Much of the anti-McDaniel broadsides in the runoff are focused on comments he made as a radio talk show host before he won his state senate seat. In the last two weeks, The New York Times and the Washington Post have run page one stories highlighting remarks McDaniel made on-air a decade ago. On different broadcasts, McDaniel referred to Hispanic women as "mamacitas" and wondered aloud if "homosexual churches exist."
"That shows the weakness of the Cochran campaign," the challenger said, "and I think the people of Mississippi know the difference between what a radio talk show said on the air ten years ago and what I have done as a state senator for the past seven years."
In a state where the largest employer is the University of Mississippi Medical Center, and where more than 50 percent of residents are on food stamps, outside observers were astounded that voters would give second place to a senator poised to chair the Appropriations Committee or the Agriculture Committee in the Senate.
McDaniel believes that "Mississippians are a moral people and feel it is immoral to spend up to a $17.5 trillion debt and get to a point where we are now taking some 46 cents out of every tax dollar to service that debt. Something's got to be done."
Already backed by such conservative stalwarts as Sarah Palin and Rick Santorum, McDaniel recently picked up the endorsements of Ron Paul and Fox TV’s Sean Hannity.
Asked if a historic upset to Cochran might then catapult former Rep. Travis Childers to striking distance of becoming the Magnolia State’s first Democrat to win a Senate race since 1982, McDaniel replied without hesitation, "No, Mississippi’s the most conservative state in the nation. Once the voters hear [Childers’] record, the possibility of him winning is zero."
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