I’ll be honest, the Mississippi political season kind of snuck up on me. I considered writing about our Republican primary earlier this year, but told myself “You’ve got plenty of time for that, talk about what’s in the news this week.” Well, now the primary is two short weeks away, and this is the last column I’ll have before it happens, so now is as good a time as any to talk about the McDaniel vs. Cochran race, and how I really can’t decide which one of them I’d like to win..
The McDaniel vs. Cochran dynamic just echoes one that’s been sweeping through the Republican Party ever since 2010. In one corner you have the establishment Republican who votes mostly with his party (Cochran) but who deviates from party lines sometimes, mostly on matters of practical importance to his state. In the other, you have the Tea Party candidate (McDaniel) to whom nobody else is conservative enough. But apparently hardcore Tea Party-style conservatism often correlates with saying stupid things and losing elections, as Todd Akin, Richard Mourdock, and Christine O’Donnell can verify.
So this is the challenge that the Republican party faces. Do they stick with Cochran, who will certainly win the general election in November but will also vote with Democrats occasionally, or do they go with McDaniel, who might go off-script and endanger the Republican seat? Some would say that Mississippi is so conservative that even if McDaniel screws up a little bit on the campaign trail, there’s no way a Democrat would be able to beat him. There are several reasons why I think this just isn’t true.
First of all, while Mississippi certainly has a reputation for being stuck in the past, I think that reputation itself is a bit outdated. Not a lot of people know this, but Mississippi was actually one of the only states where Barack Obama actually had a higher percentage of the presidential vote in 2012 than he did in 2008. In a shock to many, the Personhood legislation from 2011 failed resoundingly. I think there’s room for a Democratic upset in the state sooner than a lot of people think.
And McDaniel has his share of issues. Old radio programs of his have been dug up from the archives, and the tapes have already rebounded through the blogosphere. The man certainly has interesting opinions on race, poverty, homosexuality, women, Muslims, and more. McDaniel also recently took a lot of heat for associating himself with a neo-Confederate group. And that was all before the last week, when we found out that a McDaniel supporter apparently broke in to Sen. Cochran’s wife’s nursing home.
But despite his issues, two recent polls have come out to show McDaniel actually leading the race. If McDaniel does pull out a surprise victory, Democratic candidate Travis Childers may very well be able to capitalize. Childers is a fairly well known and well liked former Representative from the 1st District, and between his name recognition, moderate voting record, and willingness to campaign on the economic failure of Republican policies, Childers shouldn’t be written off if he gets to face the weaker McDaniel instead of the formidable Cochran.
And when it comes down to it, having Childers in the Senate would be much more of a difference from McDaniel or Cochran than either of them are from each other. Sure, Cochran will vote with Democrats every once in a while, but he’s a vote for Republican leader Mitch McConnell. A vote against extending unemployment benefits. A vote against raising the minimum wage. A vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act. McDaniel would be all of these things too. Is the chance of actually being represented by a Democrat in the Senate worth the risk of putting McDaniel there? I just don’t know. But unless McDaniel is able to ride out his most recent campaign scandal, we may not find out.