By Emily Wagster Pettus
JACKSON – Mississippi faces a contentious Republican primary battle for the U.S. Senate this year with state lawmaker Chris McDaniel trying to unseat Thad Cochran, the man who’s been in Congress almost as long as McDaniel has been alive.
Just under five months remain until the June 3 primary. The state Legislature is scheduled to be in session three of those months, beginning last Tuesday and ending no later than April 6.
No doubt, McDaniel will have a fully packed schedule as he tries to balance campaign appearances with duties as a state senator from Jones County. No doubt, people will be keeping track of McDaniel’s attendance record at the state Capitol.
The 41-year-old from Ellisville launched his U.S. Senate campaign in October, months after he and several colleagues formed a conservative coalition. The group thinks GOP leaders such as Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves are not conservative enough. The legislative session gives McDaniel a platform to make speeches about ideas that appeal to his Tea Party base.
As for the lawmakers who aren’t McDaniel fans? Those folks – Democrat and Republican alike – will get a chance to maneuver against him every time he steps up to the microphone.
Expect McDaniel to mention liberty and the Constitution almost any time he gets up to speak about a bill (he said “liberty” and “Constitution” about a dozen times each during his campaign announcement). Expect him to criticize government spending, on both the federal and state level. Expect him to criticize Common Core, the set of academic standards that Mississippi and most other states have adopted. The standards are not a federal dictate, but Tea Partiers hate them and members of the conservative coalition see them as a big step toward Washington taking over local schools.
Reeves, who presides over the Senate, was asked by The Associated Press how much the U.S. Senate race will affect the dynamics of the state Senate this session.
“I would anticipate that it would affect the dynamics in the Senate zero,” Reeves said with a straight face and without hesitation.
“The vast majority of members of the Senate were elected, well, all of them were elected to do a job, and that is to govern on behalf of their constituents. And the vast majority of them will be committed to do just that,” Reeves said. “And so I don’t anticipate there being any change in the dynamics in the Senate.”
Reeves was among many big-name Republicans who quickly threw their support to Cochran when the senator announced in early December that he’s running again. Cochran revealed his plans the day before his 76th birthday, and said he intends to serve the full six years if re-elected. He served three two-year terms in the U.S. House before winning one of the state’s two Senate seats in 1978. As a longtime leader of the Appropriations Committee, he has steered billions of dollars to his home state over the years.
Many Democrats relish the thought of a bruising Republican primary. State GOP chairman Joe Nosef called for party unity in an email this past week.
“Having robust disagreements on policy, politics, and even candidates is unavoidable at a time when we have more Republicans in office than ever before,” Nosef wrote. “It is critical, however, that we make sure our energy and resources are focused on defeating our liberal Democrat opponents, rather than on attacking each other. If not, we risk helping our opponents and hurting our cause.”
He added: “Winning elections is how we are able to ensure our priorities and policies actually have a chance to get implemented.”