What goes with the Republican wannabes with statewide credentials who were prominently standing in line, waiting for word to come down from Mount Thaddeus that he was a no-go in 2014?
While the heavy-hitters in the wannabe camp were silent out of courtesy to elder statesman Cochran, a little-known state legislator from Jones County named Chris McDaniel came storming out of right – no, FAR right, field – challenging Thad whether he’s a run or no-run. His announcement stunned the state’s Republican establishment.
The 41-year-old McDaniel galloped into the Senate arena with the pesky Tea Party backing in hand. But also with bundles of cash from three far-right, deep pocket groups based in Washington. Indicative of what their ready cash can do to reshape political campaigns became quickly apparent. Polished big bucks TV ads bought by the Club For Growth pitching McDaniel as a long-needed conservative champion began airing statewide. Unmentioned is good, gray Thad Cochran who had the audacity to vote to pay the nation’s debts and get the government running again.
Delbert Hosemann, the secretary of State and Stacey Pickering, the state auditor, have been the hottest wannabes, with Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and 3rd District Congressman Gregg Harper one tier below. Considering that a Senate seat is the juiciest plumb on the political tree, even Haley Barbour couldn’t be counted out.
Yet, we hadn’t heard a peep that anyone was running. Hosemann, however, for months has been grabbing TV face time and newspaper ink, largely pushing implementation of a state law to require an approved state-issued photo ID at the polls in order to cast a ballot. Many, especially African-Americans, smelled the scent of the old poll tax. Pickering’s best selling point is rooting out corruption in county and state government. Lately quarter page ads with Pickering’s name attached have appeared stressing the auditor as the state’s watchdog to make officials accountable for spending tax money for the public good and not for their personal gain.
McDaniel’s alliance with the Tea Party is only part of the story of how far to the right the Ellisville lawyer really is. Published accounts in the investigative magazine Mother Jones initially reported that McDaniel in August had been a featured speaker at a conference hosted by a neo-Confederate, pro-secessionist group based in Jones County where some attendees wore Confederate uniforms. Other speakers included a graduate student at the University of Southern Mississippi named Ryan Waters who formerly worked in the Ellisville lawmaker’s legislative campaign and had additional ties to McDaniel. Walters has written that President Obama’s Hawaii birth certificate is part of a controversy that “hasn’t really been solved.” Another speaker was a historian who claimed that President Lincoln was a Marxist. Walters occasionally is guest host on a Hattiesburg talk radio show that McDaniel launched and hosted several years ago and still appears on as a guest.
We can’t forget that the Republican primary qualifying deadline won’t happen until next March, and Thad still has time to declare. However, he says it will be by the end of this year.
This week’s Time Magazine has a special article about big business (including the staunchly conservative U.S. Chamber of Commerce) waging a surprise war to put down the Tea Party’s insurgency into ranks of the GOP. The possible match-up of Chris McDaniel against Thad Cochran is one of what Time calls “the Republican Civil War” sparked by the Tea Party challenge.
Featured in the article is the Republican primary race to fill Alabama’s 1st Congressional district seat. Bradley Byrne, a mild-mannered former state lawmaker was backed by massed business interests in turning back a blistering challenge from Dean Young, a Tea Party darling. Young summed up his challenge as “a fight for the soul of the Republican Party.”
Is that what’s at stake in Mississippi’s GOP ranks?
Syndicated columnist Bill Minor has covered Mississippi politics since 1947. Contact him through Ed Inman at firstname.lastname@example.org.