Tags: Tea Party | Mississippi | runoff | senator | Cochran | McDaniel

Mississippi Sen. Cochran Faces Uphill Runoff Battle

By    |   Wednesday, 04 June 2014 12:09 PM

In dramatic photo-finish results from Mississippi that few predicted, six-term Sen. Thad Cochran and tea party-backed state Sen. Chris McDaniel both found themselves shy of a majority in the Republican primary Tuesday and are headed for a runoff in three weeks.

Even die-hard Cochran supporters concluded that his second-place finish in spite of his support from nearly every elected Republican in the Magnolia State now means he is the underdog in the coming showdown with McDaniel, and very likely the first U.S. senator to be denied renomination in 2014.

"When the tone of a campaign gets this low, it doesn't favor a gentleman-candidate such as Thad Cochran," Hayes Dent, Republican lobbyist and Cochran backer, told Newsmax on Tuesday night.

McDaniel held a wafer-thin lead over Cochran of 49.6 percent to 48.9 percent, with 1.6 percent going to gadfly candidate Thomas Carey.

That McDaniel could come so close to an outright defeat of Cochran was big news in itself. After six years in the U.S. House and the last 36 years in the Senate, Cochran was universally known in Mississippi and had not faced a competitive primary since his Senate bid in 1978.

Moreover, in a state where the University of Mississippi Medical Center is the largest employer and the number of residents using food stamps is higher than the national average, Cochran, 77, is a senior member of the Appropriations Committee and would become chairman of the Agriculture Committee if Republicans took control of the Senate this fall.

His opponent had an entirely different agenda.

Styling himself as a constitutional conservative in the mold of GOP Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Mike Lee of Utah, McDaniel, 41, slammed the veteran incumbent for his vote to reopen the government, funding for Obamacare, and other controversial votes such as a favorable vote on the START arms control treaty. National conservative heroes Rick Santorum and Sarah Palin made separate appearances on McDaniel's behalf.

With conservative groups such as the Madison Project and Club for Growth unleashing major television broadsides against Cochran, major state party leaders including former Gov. Haley Barbour, incumbent Gov. Phil Bryant, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, and Sen. Roger Wicker raised money and stumped hard for the embattled incumbent in the twilight days of the campaign.

Former Republican Sen. Trent Lott of Mississippi, who clashed frequently with Cochran during more than a quarter-century together in the Senate, cut a hard-hitting TV spot on behalf of his former colleague.

"I would guess that all but seven state legislators and just about all the local elected officials supported Sen. Cochran. They knew what he had done for them and what he could do," Dent said.

McDaniel's performance was even more impressive as it came after a few stumbles on his part and by some supporters. In a February interview with Politico, McDaniel declined to say definitively whether he would have voted for the 2005 relief bill for Hurricane Katrina.

Although a McDaniel spokesman later insisted the conservative hopeful would have voted for the Katrina relief measure, Cochran backers pounced on the earlier comments by his opponent.

"After Hurricane Katrina, Sen. Cochran fought for us, pushing emergency relief funding through Congress," blared a 30-second TV ad sponsored by a pro-Cochran super-PAC. "But when trial lawyer Chris McDaniel was asked how he would have voted for Katrina, his response was, 'I don't know.'"

Two weeks before the primary, the McDaniel campaign was jolted by reports of the arrest of a blogger who supported him for gaining entrance to a nursing home where Cochran's wife Rose was a patient. Clayton Kelly took a video of Rose Cochran, who suffers from dementia, and briefly posted it on his website. McDaniel denounced the blogger and emphasized that Kelly had no connection to the campaign.

But the stumbles and the heavyweight support for Cochran notwithstanding, McDaniel not only forced his opponent into a runoff but actually placed first in their initial battle.

The last time Mississippi turned out an incumbent senator was in 1942, when James Eastland won the Democratic primary over Sen. Wall Doxey, who had the backing of most Democratic leaders from President Franklin D. Roosevelt on down.

Today, in the very same seat, there is strong evidence that history may soon repeat itself.

John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.

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In dramatic photo-finish results from Mississippi that few predicted, six-term Sen. Thad Cochran and tea party-backed state Sen. Chris McDaniel both found themselves shy of a majority in the Republican primary on Tuesday and are headed for a runoff in three weeks.
Mississippi, runoff, senator, Cochran, McDaniel, tea party
Wednesday, 04 June 2014 12:09 PM
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