With End in Sight, Cochran Brings the Fight

by Eliana Johnson

The Canadian academic turned politician Michael Ignatieff called it the simplest lesson in politics: “Show them you want it.”

If Mississippi’s Thad Cochran has struggled to do that during the bulk of his campaign — until this point, he hasn’t appeared in any of his ads and has largely refrained from criticizing his opponent — the 76-year-old senator is doing his best, ahead of a June 24 runoff, to show he has some fight left.

Cochran on Tuesday slammed his tea-party challenger, state senator Chris McDaniel, as an “extremist” whose vow to curb federal spending would hurt Mississippians, and he’s doubling down on his pledge to keep the pork flowing from Washington if he is reelected.

According to the Jackson Clarion-Ledger, the senator on Tuesday emphasized his work in the wake of Hurricane Katrina to secure federal aid to help rebuild the Gulf Coast. He said not only that McDaniel is attempting to “indict that kind of power and influence in Washington” but that it would be “dangerous to have somebody like him elected.”

Cochran for the first time appears in his own ad, which reinforces the message: He will, he says, “do more for Mississippi.”

Cochran’s boosters are all but admitting that message won’t be enough to win a majority of Republicans in the state, which is why they’re courting Democratic voters as well. Henry Barbour, who runs a super PAC supporting Cochran, tells me he thinks McDaniel “capped out” in the primary and can’t add “any material number of votes.” Cochran, by contrast, “has much broader appeal in the state.”

Motivating Democrats to turn out for a Republican runoff will be hard, but the Cochran campaign got one indication that it may be doable. The executive director of the Mississippi Parents Campaign, a group that opposes vouchers and charter schools, sent an e-mail to members not-so-subtly urging them to vote for Cochran. Without mentioning either candidate by name, she said, “A number of our members have asked recently what impact the current Senate and Congressional elections could have on public schools. The truth is, a BIG one! Mississippi children benefit heavily from the federal investment in our public schools, and the folks we send to Washington determine, in large part, the resources that are available to educate our kids.”

McDaniel has said that he thinks the Department of Education is unconstitutional.

The fundamentals of the race still favor McDaniel, and two polls released Monday show him with a narrow lead. One, from the group Strategic National, polled likely GOP-runoff voters and has McDaniel up by six points; the other, from the Democratic polling firm Chism Strategies, surveyed an equal number of Cochran and McDaniel supporters and has McDaniel up by three.

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