By Bobby Harrison
Daily Journal Jackson Bureau
JACKSON – State Sen. Chris McDaniel, R-Ellisville, reiterated his call Thursday for U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran “to come home” and debate him.
McDaniel, who is challenging the six-term incumbent in the June 3 Republican primary, said at a Thursday morning news conference outside the state Capitol that Cochran and his supporters are distorting his record in “attack ads.”
McDaniel took particular exception to the charge leveled by the Cochran campaign and his supporters that he is a trial attorney – a charge that could be particularly damaging in a Republican primary.
“Instead of hiding behind attack ads, Senator Cochran needs to come home and debate me,” said McDaniel.
The news conference highlighted the contentiousness of the race.
After McDaniel’s news conference, Jordan Russell, the Cochran campaign communications director, responded to McDaniel’s criticism.
“Senator Cochran is not going to debate a liar,” Russell said, saying McDaniel was untruthful about his record and Cochran’s record “like a trial attorney does.”
McDaniel said his firm primarily defends businesses that are sued. He said he did represent his first cousin, who suffered an oilfield accident where he was burned over 95 percent of his body. He said the case where Cochran supporters claim he argued that caps on noneconomic damages was unconstitutional was not his case. He said he assisted the lead lawyer in the case after the original “second chair” left the firm.
“I have never cast a vote against tort reform,” McDaniel said. He alleged that in the U.S. Senate, Cochran has cast numerous votes in favor of trial attorneys.
Russell took particular exception to the allegation Cochran has been in Washington so long that he has lost touch with the state and, in effect, was no longer a Mississippian.
“You can pretty much tell he is lying when his mouth is moving,” Russell said about McDaniel at one point.
Russell said people impacted by Hurricane Katrina, the state’s farmers, veterans and universities could attest to how effective Cochran has been in helping them.
“Senator Cochran has worked hard for our state,” Russell said.
McDaniel said there are people throughout the state who have never seen Cochran. He said Cochran should come home himself and level those allegations against him instead of sending Russell.
It was pointed out to McDaniel that he had accused Cochran of lying about the charge he is a trial attorney. McDaniel said the difference is that he did it himself instead of a campaign spokesman doing it.
McDaniel denied that his campaign leaked to the press stories about the travel Cochran has taken. Various news outlets have reported that Cochran has taken more than 30 trips to more than 40 countries over the past 12 years with Kay Webber, a member of his staff. McDaniel did say the number of trips concerned him as a taxpayer.
Cochran’s staff and other members of the congressional delegation have said that it is normal for staffers to accompany senators on such fact-finding trips.
Russell said Cochran was in D.C. right now because the Senate is in session. He said unlike McDaniel, who has been identified as the fifth most truant member of the state Senate, Cochran stays in D.C. to vote on issues impacting Mississippians.