By Robbie Ward
TUPELO – Both Republican U.S. Senate candidates in Mississippi’s most closely watched election this year asked donors in Tupelo for campaign cash last week, part of an effort to raise millions of dollars in a race that may help define the GOP nationally.
Both U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran, 76, seeking a seventh term, and state Sen. Chris McDaniel, 41, parked their campaign buses downtown about four days and about a block apart, each asking for financial support.
Cochran, a Pontotoc native known for a low-key approach his admirers call statesmanship, success bringing congressional earmarks to the nation’s poorest state and easily winning elections, likely faces his toughest challenge in nearly 30 years.
Challenger McDaniel, from Ellisville in south Mississippi, a polished Tea Party darling set on canceling the federal government’s credit card and sending the longtime incumbent into retirement, is trying to galvanize support from voters aggravated with entrenched elected Democrats and Republicans in Washington, D.C. He has won endorsements from prominent Tea Party-affiliated national “super-pacs,” independent political action committees that can spend unlimited amounts of political donations to support or oppose a candidate.
Both candidates seemed focused recently on raising cash leading to the June 3 primary election. Cochran’s campaign estimates raising about $800,000 in the last week of in-state fundraising. McDaniel’s campaign announced Wednesday raising more than $500,000 in the final two and a half months of 2013.
Neither candidate spoke with news media or held public events while in Tupelo.
“Unfortunately we are on a very tight schedule so I do not think he will have time for an interview this week,” Cochran’s communications director, Jordan Russell, emailed to the Daily Journal before Friday’s fundraiser.
Noel Fritsch, McDaniel’s communications director, said Monday the challenger’s fundraiser was not open to news media.
The $200-a-person event for Cochran at Park Heights restaurant included appearances by Republican U.S. Rep. Alan Nunnelee and U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, who introduced Cochran to the audience of about 75.
Former Tupelo mayor and TVA chairman Glenn McCullough, who attended Cochran’s fundraiser, said he heard messages of Mississippi Republican unity and believes Cochran deserves another six-year term.
“Sen. Cochran’s conservative values, his leadership and ability to represent the best interest of Mississippians have always appealed to me,” McCullough said. “Lord knows we need him now more than ever.”
As for McDaniel’s local support, 40 supporters attended his $65 a person fundraiser at the BancorpSouth Conference Center. Tupelo Tea Party leader Grant Sowell said McDaniel’s approach involves speaking to smaller groups, but a lot of them.
McDaniel has repeatedly criticized Cochran’s funneling of federal taxpayer money for state public universities, public safety and health, agricultural programs and dozens of other projects that some conservatives say the nation can’t afford.
“Sen. McDaniel made it clear that his race is bigger than one man,” Sowell said. “It’s about the people and the movement, not just him or Thad Cochran.”
The GOP U.S. Senate primary election winner will face whoever emerges from the Democratic primary. Currently, only former Republican congressional candidate turned Democrat Bill Marcy has filed qualifying papers but state Democratic Party chairman Rickey Cole said he expects others to qualify before the March 1 deadline.
The general election is Nov. 4.