Tea Party vs. GOP Establishment: Mississippi Heads for Judgment Day

Monday, 23 Jun 2014 08:02 PM

By Joe Schaeffer

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As the bitterly contested Republican Senate primary in Mississippi hurtles toward Tuesday's runoff, the divide between the tea party challengers represented by Chris McDaniel and the Republican Party establishment represented by six-term incumbent Sen. Thad Cochran has come into stark focus.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce's declaration that it was committing $50 million to squelch tea party candidates in Republican senatorial primaries first brought the war out into the open in December.

As recently as a month ago, media reports were proclaiming the establishment's defeat of the tea party, with the Wall Street Journal writing that primary results in Kentucky, Georgia, Idaho "and elsewhere" "could help GOP leaders reassert their dominance over conservative insurgents."

Then came the Eric Cantor bombshell, and, in one fell blow, the tea party was on the rise again.

That surge looks to continue Tuesday in Mississippi. A new poll shows McDaniel leading by 8 points, and several other factors give reason for tea party optimism.

Figures for the 2014 political cycle posted on opensecrets.org show that 42 percent of Cochran's campaign donations have come from PACs, as opposed to only 4 percent for McDaniel. Conversely, only 2 percent of contributions to Cochran's campaign come from small donors, while 35 percent of McDaniel donations come from such small contributors.

The Cochran campaign has also been drawing heavy criticism from the right for using a Democratic operative to canvass black voters and for reaching out to union voters.

"A 42-year incumbent GOP senator stumping for Democratic and union votes will certainly anger more conservative Republicans. Cochran's assemblage of plutocrats has not gone unnoticed by the populists among McDaniel's base," Democratic pollster Chism Strategies noted on June 20.

Meanwhile, the Washington Post reported that Cochran's fellow senators gave more than $100,000 to their colleague's campaign "through their leadership committees between June 3 and June 13, according to the Cochran campaign's 48-hour reports from that time period."

Prominent Cochran backer and Mississippi Republican powerhouse Haley Barbour last week seemed to openly defy what has become a major rallying point for tea party supporters by pushing amnesty for illegal immigrants in a speech that came just six days after Cantor's stunning defeat in Virginia was largely attributed to that very issue, and as the Cochran-McDaniel runoff battle was hitting full steam.

"I don't think Eric's loss should have anything to do with it," Barbour said June 16 during an appearance before the New York Meeting, Breitbart reports.

Breitbart's Tony Lee reports Barbour pushed "for a bill that would give a pathway to citizenship to 'everybody who's here illegally' so long as they confess they are in America illegally, pay fines and back taxes, and are put on probation."

The remarks are reminiscent of a similar Cantor statement on a local Virginia radio show one week before his primary loss. Cantor used that appearance to assert that his support for amnesty for the children of illegal immigrants was "biblical."

The Barbour-backed Mississippi Conservatives Super PAC was identified by Democrat political operative James "Scooby Doo" Warren as a group he was working with to canvass the traditionally heavily Democratic black vote.

McDaniel supporters further suggested Barbour was behind a television ad financed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in which former NFL quarterback and revered Mississippian Brett Favre endorsed Cochran.

McDaniel backers allege the ad was payback for Barbour's granting Favre's brother a pardon for a vehicular manslaughter conviction during his last day as governor in 2012.

"I think any reasonable person would ponder the question as to whether Gov. Barbour's pardon of Brett Favre's brother on a drunk-driving manslaughter conviction might have some bearing on Brett Favre's eleventh-hour endorsement of Thad Cochran," Mississippi state Sen. Angela Hill told The Daily Caller.

Perhaps best summing up the sheer hostility of this runoff battle is a Facebook post made by Sen. Cochran's daughter Kate in which she pulls no punches in lashing out at tea party supporters.

The post was also published in full on the tea party website Mississippi Conservative Daily.

In the post, Kate Cochran wrote, "I think that Mississippians are being snookered by neocon zealots on talk radio, Fox News, and elsewhere. The New Right values extremism, obstructionism, partisanship, and – frankly – ignorance."

She then went on to criticize McDaniel for "lack of wisdom (he relies solely on Jesus, the Constitution, and common sense – combined in the veneer of  'goodness')," before harshly concluding:

"I find his campaign appalling on intellectual, moral, and idealist levels. The fact that Mississippi voters are even considering his candidacy saddens me more than I can say. Mississippi used to be recognized as the most backward, prejudiced, ignorant hold-back in our nation, hands down. This sea change makes me very afraid that we might deserve that mantle."

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