Nastiest Race in the Nation

by Eliana Johnson

Mississippi’s Senate primary has quickly become the nastiest in the country.

The already bitter battle between insurgent Chris McDaniel and six-term senator Thad Cochran devolved into an all-out mudslinging contest in the wake of the arrest earlier this month of four McDaniel supporters. They are accused of orchestrating a nursing home break-in to videotape Cochran’s bedridden wife, and of using the footage for an attack video that was posted briefly online. There is no evidence, to date, that the McDaniel campaign was involved with the incident, but the Cochran campaign isn’t passing up the opportunity to use it as a political football.

A new ad from Team Cochran flashes newspaper headlines across the screen. “It’s the worst: Chris McDaniel supporter charged with a felony for posting video of Senator Thad Cochran’s wife in a nursing home? Had enough?” a narrator asks. “Rise up and say no to dirty politics and yes to our strong conservative leader Thad Cochran.”

Cochran has Stuart Stevens, who served as Mitt Romney’s strategist in the 2012 campaign, as a media adviser. A native Mississippian, Stevens knows the state and its politics: He served as an intern in Cochran’s office in the 1970s and worked on every one of former Mississippi governor Haley Barbour’s campaigns. Barbour, the godfather of the Republican party in the state, has rallied his forces behind Cochran.

But McDaniel, who is backed by the Club for Growth and the Senate Conservatives Fund, has proved resilient. In an ad out today, he is hitting back. “You’ve probably seen Thad Cochran’s negative attack ads,” McDaniel says. “Newspapers call them shameless, I call them outrageous.”

The Mississippi Tea Party — whose vice chairman was arrested in connection with the scandal — has responded, too, sending out an e-mail to supporters arguing that the Cochran campaign’s attempts to link McDaniel to the scandal are merely intended to hide the senator’s “jet-setting lifestyle” and his “living situation with his executive assistant.” (Cochran rents an apartment in Washington, D.C., from his executive assistant, Kay Webber.)

The Jackson Clarion-Ledger on Monday quoted several Mississippi political scientists saying that all the talk about the incident is likely to boost turnout at next week’s primary.

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