BOBBY HARRISON: Dynamics of U.S. Senate race take shape in Mississippi

BOBBY HARRISON

BOBBY HARRISON

JACKSON

In recent years, Republicans’ efforts to take over the United States Senate have been thwarted at least in part by the ultra-conservative wing of the party – i.e., the Tea Party.

In Nevada, Delaware, Missouri, Indiana, Alaska, to name a few, the Republicans have lost what at one time were considered likely victories by nominating candidates the general election voters viewed as too conservative, out of the mainstream.

PPP, a national polling firm that is viewed as having allegiances to the Democratic Party, recently polled the 2014 Senate race here in Mississippi.

The poll revealed that in Mississippi – viewed as a safe Republican seat in national and most state elections – at this point in time a Democratic candidate would be competitive with state Sen. Chris McDaniel, R-Ellisville, who is the only candidate yet to announce he is seeking the seat in 2014.

McDaniel, who can be seen statewide in television commercials being paid for by national Tea Party-related political action committees, leads by slight margins two big-name Democrats – former Gov. Ronnie Musgrove and former U.S. Rep. Travis Childers of Booneville. He trails by a slight margin current Attorney General Jim Hood – Mississippi’s only statewide elected Democrat.

In all three instances, the races are statistically dead heats, meaning the results are within the poll’s margin of error.

It would be interesting to see how Northern District Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley would have fared in the poll.

Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, a possible candidate for the Senate seat, polls better than McDaniel against the three Democrats – though there is only a one-point difference in a head-to-head with Hood.

PPP polled 502 Mississippi voters, “including an over sample of 422 Republican voters,” making the strong showing of the Democrats mentioned in the poll even more surprising.

Of course, the question is whether six-term incumbent Thad Cochran will run again. The veteran Republican has said he will announce a decision this month.

The poll indicates that Cochran is vulnerable. He leads McDaniel by only 6 percentage points and 55 percent say they would prefer a candidate more conservative.

At this point, the smart money might be on Cochran not running. Normally, if a politician plans to seek re-election, that person does not give any potential challenger an opening by wavering.

If Cochran does run, none of the aforementioned Democrats will enter the race, though, surprisingly, according to the poll, Hood would be competitive against the incumbent.

But still, regardless of the poll, it is difficult for daily observers of the Mississippi political scene to imagine a scenario where a Democrat could defeat Cochran in the general election.

If Cochran does not run, though, look for big-name Republicans and at least one Democrat to enter the race.

The PPP poll shows McDaniel, who has received a great deal of statewide attention since his announcement, with a slight lead in a crowded Republican field, which might include U.S. Reps. Greg Harper and Steven Palazzo, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, Auditor Stacey Pickering and Hosemann.

Interestingly, Reeves polls at the bottom of the Republican field with only 3 percent support.

But the interesting proposition for state Democrats, who have been beaten up and are at a low ebb, is whether a candidate could emerge from the Republican primary that even by Mississippi standards might be viewed as too conservative.

That has happened in other states, costing Republicans a chance to garner a Republican Senate majority.

Many might argue that the general electorate is much more conservative in Mississippi, meaning that a candidate who is too conservative, say in Indiana, would not be in Mississippi.

Is that correct?

We might see next November.

Bobby Harrison is the Daily Journal’s Capitol Bureau chief. Contact him at (601) 353-3119 or bobby.harrison@journalinc.com.

  • barney fife

    There’s not a living GOP member I would consider worthy of a vote.