GOP Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi is facing a spirited challenge from the tea party wing of the party as he seeks a seventh term, with his opponent, state Sen. Chris McDaniel, citing the senator's voting record as his reason for running.
"I am running primarily because of [Cochran’s] inability to follow constitutional constraints — on spending, on sovereignty, and other major issues," McDaniel told Newsmax, citing the senator's vote last year to re-open the government with a resolution that included funding Obamacare.
Although more Republican senators supported the measure than opposed it, McDaniel said that he "would have stood with" GOP Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas, Mike Lee of Utah, Rand Paul of Kentucky, and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania "who voted no, and fought that fight."
With less than five months to go before the June 3 Republican U.S. Senate primary in Mississippi, recent polls of likely GOP voters show McDaniel within striking distance of Cochran, who, is the second most senior Republican in the Senate.
As Newsmax reported in December
, a Gravis Poll conducted with the conservative website Human Events showed startling results: McDaniel and Cochran in a tie, with 40 percent each.
This poll came less than a month after a Public Policy Polling survey found Cochran, 76, leading McDaniel by an unimpressive margin of 44 percent to 38 percent among likely primary voters, with PPP saying "much of that lead is attributable to his higher name recognition."
Based on these results, the 41-year-old McDaniel is in the strongest position of any of the five insurgents running in primaries to unseat Republican senators in 2014.
In an exclusive interview with Newsmax while he was in Washington, D.C., this weekend, McDaniel spelled out why he plans to take out Cochran, who, if re-elected and Republicans won control of the Senate, would become chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee.
"At a time when we have $17.2 trillion dollars in debt, and that's not counting unfunded liabilities, someone has to vote and to fight for the hard decisions needed to make changes," McDaniel said.
The challenger pointed to other votes on which he differs with Cochran: the senator's vote for the START arms control treaty, his support of tax dollars for United Nations peace-keeping forces, his opposition to building a fence along the Southern U.S. border, and his vote to confirm Chuck Hagel as secretary of defense, who McDaniel said is "too soft on Iran."
At first glance, an outside observer might conclude that some of these issues won't resonate with the average Republican voter. McDaniel sharply disagrees, pointing out "as Mississippi becomes a more Republican state, there is a watershed split between moderates and constitutional conservatives. This is what this race is about and the times are changing."
Underscoring his conservative credentials, McDaniel has the backing of the Senate Conservatives Fund — which provided early cash for Cruz, Lee, and other leading conservatives in their Senate races — the pro-home school Madison Project, FreedomWorks, and the Tea Party Express. In addition, nine tea party groups in the state have weighed in for the challenger.
In contrast to most of the conservatives challenging Republican senators in primaries, McDaniel has been in elective office and state politics for several years. He won his state Senate seat in 2007 and has won widespread praise for his championship of a bill to uphold property rights in response to the Supreme Court's Kelo decision. The bill was vetoed by McDaniel's fellow Republican, then-Gov. Haley Barbour, but the veto was over-ridden by a statewide initiative.
Eight fellow Republican state senators have endorsed him over Cochran and his campaign manager is state Sen. Melanie Sojourner of Natchez, who made big news last year by unseating a 32-year incumbent legislator.
The Magnolia State almost never turns out sitting senators. The last time a U.S. senator from Mississippi lost a bid for re-nomination was in 1942, when Sen. Wall Doxey was beaten by fellow Democrat James Eastland. Eastland would go on to serve 36 years before retiring in 1978, when Cochran won the seat for his first term.
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.
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