By Robbie Ward
TUPELO – Tea Party challengers hope to upend Mississippi’s Republican and Democratic party establishment in state U.S. Senate primary elections, political races likely favoring established candidates in both parties, including six-term incumbent Thad Cochran.
The qualifying deadline passed Saturday with a few perennial and little-known candidates joining to the Senate primaries, but nothing as significant as Friday’s news of former Democratic U.S. Rep. Travis Childers entering the race.
Primary elections are June 3, and the general election is Nov. 4.
The former 1st District Congressman’s candidacy positions both GOP and Democratic primaries to include familiar candidates favored by the party establishment to face ultra-conservative candidates who support draconian spending cuts, opposition to federal budget funding of Obamacare and elimination of entire federal departments.
National and state political pundits, however, believe all challengers to the Republican Cochran likely will waste their time trying to unseat the third-most senior member of the U.S. Senate.
Since 1982, incumbent U.S. senators have won re-election during most years by rates of 80 percent or higher, Center for Responsive Politics data shows.
“It’s really hard to beat any incumbent, basically,” said Kyle Kondik, managing editor of Sabado’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics. “History tells us Cochran’s in good shape.”
Mississippi in particular has a history of returning incumbents back to Washington, D.C. The most recent incumbent U.S. senator not to win re-election happened 71 years ago when James Eastland defeated Wall Doxey in the Democratic Primary.
Cochran, 76, was first elected to the Senate in 1978 and gained a reputation as a savvy appropriator of billions of dollars in Congressional earmarks to Mississippi, one of the nation’s poorest states. The senator has directed billions of federal dollars throughout the state for research at public universities, community and economic development projects and more. Congressional earmarks stopped in 2011 after an outcry some elected officials abused the practice.
Both U.S. Senate candidates associated with the Tea Party take aim at Cochran for issues including his long earmark history. Republican Chris McDaniel, 41, of Ellisville, a two-term state senator, has support of many national Tea Party groups planning to spend millions of dollars to support his campaign in the primary.
Marty Wiseman, recently retired director of Mississippi State University’s Stennis Institute of Government, said Cochran wouldn’t have a significant primary threat without ideological groups opposing the senator dumping huge piles of cash into the race. Wiseman anticipates Cochran defeating McDaniel but must take the race seriously.
Republican Thomas Carey of Hernando also will appear on the GOP ballot for Senate.
Democratic Senate candidate Bill Marcy, 67, of Vicksburg, has run two unsuccessful races as a GOP candidate for Congress but hopes for a long-shot win in the Democratic Primary as a second Tea Party challenger against the incumbent if Cochran defeats McDaniel in the primary.
“I tell people to consider me as plan B,” Marcy said in a recent interview.
But Marcy’s plan may not materialize as Mississippi’s political establishment in both major parties seems unwilling to support Tea Party candidates in the senate race.
Mississippi Democratic Party Executive Director Rickey Cole issued a supportive statement Friday after Childers, 55, filed qualifying papers for the Senate race.
“Travis Childers is a lifelong Democrat, and has served with distinction as a Democratic executive committee member, Democratic county official and a Democratic member of the U.S. House of Representatives,” Cole said. “We look forward to the campaign.”
Marcy already has faced hostility from Democratic Party faithful. During a meeting Saturday in Tupelo for Democratic Party leadership in the 1st Congressional District, the group discussed passing a resolution asking the state party not to certify the former GOP candidate as a Democrat but took no action. Democrats William Bond Compton Jr. of Meridian and Jonathan Rawl of Oxford also will appear on the party’s primary ballot.
As for Republicans, nearly all of Mississippi’s top GOP elected leaders have endorsed Cochran.
The 1st Congressional District two-term incumbent Alan Nunnelee, 55, a Tupelo Rebublican, will face no primary opposition for the first time since running for the federal office. The district covers 22 counties in the north and northeastern part of the state.
In the general election, Nunnelee will face Libertarian Danny Bedwell, 54, of Columbus and the winner of the Democratic primary between political newcomer Ron E. Dickey, 43, of Horn Lake, and Rex N. Weathers, age not available, who has run unsuccessfully for multiple offices.