By Emily Wagster Pettus
JACKSON – Veteran Republican Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi says he’s not familiar with the tea party, even though he’s being challenged by a supporter of the populist movement.
“The tea party, you know, is something I don’t really know a lot about,” says Cochran, 76, who’s seeking a seventh six-year term in the Senate. “And it’s a free country. We have open opportunities for people to participate in the election process.”
Cochran’s comments came Monday in response to questions from Jackson, Miss., television stations.
He is being challenged in the June 3 GOP primary by state Sen. Chris McDaniel of Ellisville, an attorney with strong support from tea party groups.
McDaniel, 41, said the tea party remark shows that Cochran is out of touch with people who support low taxes and limited government.
“The tea party matters. They care for their country,” McDaniel told The Associated Press in a phone interview Tuesday. “These are conservative voters who feel like they’re not being heard.”
Cochran was elected to the Senate in 1978 after six years in the House.
Cochran spoke to the television stations during an appearance Monday at a steel plant outside Jackson. He said he doesn’t know much about McDaniel, who launched a campaign in October.
“I’m just running my campaign based on my qualifications to continue to serve as a United States senator,” said Cochran, who is supported by Gov. Phil Bryant and several other Republican state officials.