Politics

04.17.14

Mississippi Prefers Pork to Tea

In an attempt to slip into a Senate seat, Republican candidate Chris McDaniel has abandoned home state issues to focus on national matters—and state voters don’t like the taste of it.

Mississippi is different.

In many states, a seat in the Senate is simply a political office. Politicians come, and politicians go. But in Mississippi, becoming a U.S. senator is a lifetime appointment that politicians generally leave only upon death or disgrace. The Magnolia State has always been poor and relies on politicians in Washington to gain seniority and then use their clout to push federal money back to help its state, which regularly ranks at the bottom of just about every possible index of wealth and well-being.

This year, though, Tea Party candidate Chris McDaniel is trying to flip the script. Running against 36-year incumbent Thad Cochran (who is only the third man this century to win a general election to his Senate seat since the adoption of the 17th Amendment), McDaniel boasts that if elected, he will refuse to funnel federal money back home to Mississippi and wasn’t willing to come out in support of federal funds to relieve victims of Hurricane Katrina. The idea is to give tough medicine to what McDaniel has called “a welfare state” and the belief that cutting off federal aid will finally allow private enterprise in Mississippi to flourish.

McDaniel is a state senator and former radio talk show host who has emerged as the most formidable challenger to an incumbent Republican in a Senate primary this year. But the right-winger, backed by outside groups including the Club For Growth, is starting to see his campaign fizzle as Mississippi’s June 3 primary approaches. His career as a talk radio host has provided him with easy access to a microphone from which to spout controversial comments on the airwaves bit by bit by bit.

His latest misstep was a long open letter to the Mississippi Libertarian Party where he apologized for comments he made on the radio where he suggested the essence of libertarianism was getting a discount on a hooker and crack at 7-Eleven. In doing so, McDaniel touted his libertarian bona fides, which included voting against requiring an ID to buy pseudoephedrine, one of the key ingredients used to make meth, as well as against a ban on texting while driving and introducing legislation that allows parents to avoid vaccinating their children.

He’s united the state GOP against him and seems to be taking a strategy more designed to appeal to national donors than a Mississippi electorate with a deep fondness for pork.

While McDaniel might normally be able to dismiss his comments from his radio show as relics of a past life, the task is made more difficult by the fact that he has been attacking Cochran on votes going on decades. As one Mississippi GOP strategist familiar with the race noted, it’s hard to claim comments you made in 2007 are irrelevant when you’re attacking your opponent for votes taken in the Carter administration.

The polls show Cochran pulling ahead with a 17-point lead after the race was in a near tie at the beginning of the year. While the race isn’t a done deal—after all, this is not the best political environment for six-term incumbent senators—McDaniel may have missed his opportunity to successfully catch Cochran by surprise. As the strategist noted, “The only way McDaniel wins is to sneak up and jump on the last two weeks and that didn’t happen.” Instead, he’s united the state GOP against him and seems to be taking a strategy more designed to appeal to national donors than a Mississippi electorate with a deep fondness for pork. While it’s still not too late for McDaniel to shift gears, it’s hard to see any Republican winning in Mississippi by being ambivalent on hurricane relief and against legislation designed to crack down on cooking meth.