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Election-driven news and views . . . by Jim Geraghty.

Will Chris McDaniel Be the Tea Party’s Next Favorite Primary Challenger?



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Today’s Morning Jolt should keep the howls of RINO-ism at bay. Senator Pat Roberts gets raked over the coals for not answering basic questions, a new round of problems for Obamacare, and then this introduction to the conservative challenger in Mississippi’s Senate race . . . 

Will Chris McDaniel Be the Tea Party’s Next Favorite Primary Challenger?

Meet state senator Chris McDaniel, Republican candidate for Senate in Mississippi.

McDaniel’s secret weapon: his extra pair of arms, visible underneath the glass table.

Two obstacles stand between McDaniel and his goal of taking the oath of office in January next year.

The first is six-term Republican incumbent senator Thad Cochran.

The second is the electoral speed bump commonly referred to as the Mississippi Democratic party.  Mississippi is so conservative that the Democratic option in the Senate race, Bill Marcy, ran as a Republican in 2010 and 2012, emphasizes how conservative he is, and pitches himself as “Plan B” if McDaniel doesn’t win the primary. (Marcy is the longest of longshots, but his bid raises the interesting question of how the press would treat a conservative, former-Republican black Democratic senator.)

If Matt Bevin wasn’t taking on Mitch McConnell, the Mississippi Senate race might be seen as the premier grassroots-outsider-vs.-establishment-incumbent primary fight of the cycle. (Kentucky holds its Senate primary May 20, and Mississippi holds its June 3, so McDaniel could get a big burst of national tea-party enthusiasm and energy in the final weeks.)

Cochran was considered a potential retirement this cycle. The URL for his 2008 reelection campaign web site, ThadforSenate.com, doesn’t appear to be up and running yet, nor has the campaign YouTube page been updated in five years. (UPDATE: See below.)  He’s 76 and has spent 40 years in Congress when you throw in his years in the U.S. House. He hasn’t given conservatives a ton to gripe about on the biggest issues and doesn’t fit the usual “RINO squish” labels. His lifetime ACU rating is 79, which isn’t bad, but . . . it’s Mississippi.

Cochran first joined the Appropriations Committee in 1981, was chairman from 2005 to 2007, and tends to vote like a senior appropriator, which is to say sort of like a king but with more authority to spend money. He’s currently ranking member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, and thus had a hand in the recent $956 billion farm bill, which expanded crop-insurance subsidies, creates new programs, includes no means-testing, and was described as “a bill of, by and for the agriculture lobby.” Cochran voted against Obamacare, but once the law was enacted, sought funding for a project in his state from a grant program authorized by the president’s signature domestic legislation. Back in 2010, Citizens Against Government Waste crowned him the “King of Pork,” accusing him of running up $490 million in earmarks.

Cochran was the first Republican to endorse President Obama’s selection of Chuck Hagel to be his Secretary of Defense.

McDaniel was elected to Mississippi’s state senate in 1998. He was a law clerk for U.S. District Court Judge Charles W. Pickering, Sr., and is a partner at the Hortman Harlow firm. He’s backed by the Club for Growth, the Senate Conservatives Fund, and other aligned groups.

Asked directly if he would support Mitch McConnell as leader of the Republicans in the Senate, McDaniel gives a direct answer: “No.”

The polling generally shows a close race. PPP put Cochran up, 44 percent to 38 percent in November; Gravis Marketing put both men at 40 percent in early December; Harper Polling put Cochran up 54 percent to 31 percent a week later.

The fundraising is reasonably close, particularly for a relatively inexpensive state like this one; Cochran had $1.1 million on hand at the end of the year, McDaniel had about $390,000. In a recent chat with some National Review editors, the challenger declared that everyone who attends a fundraiser of his rival is there “because they have something to gain. Everybody at our events just says, ‘go back to the Constitution.’”

A couple of cautionary notes about the challenger: The good news is, Chris McDaniel sounds like an enthusiastic supporter of bold entitlement reform. The bad news is . . . Chris McDaniel sounds like an enthusiastic supporter of bold entitlement reform. This is one of those ideas that Republican primary voters like in theory but may get gun-shy about after the airwaves are filled with commercials depicting a reformer throwing an old lady off a cliff.

McDaniel says that regarding the debt ceiling, he wants to see Republicans force the president to make a serious concession in exchange for raising the ceiling again – “immediate, across-the-board spending cuts, including entitlements.” It would indeed be nice to see President Obama agreeing to that. It would also be nice to see health researchers declaring that pizza and ice cream are healthy for you, but neither of those developments is likely to happen.

Also, McDaniel says he’s willing to draw a hard line on pork, but that’s another issue that seems to be more appealing in the abstract than when actual projects, jobs, and dollars are at stake. Bringing home federal spending hasn’t hurt Cochran in any of his previous six Senate campaigns, nor was it much of an issue for, say, former Mississippi senator Trent Lott. 

UPDATE: Thad Cochran’s campaign has a website! It is ThadforMississippi.com


Tags: Chris McDaniel , Thad Cochran


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