The headlines around the country have coalesced from punch and counterpunch on the Rose Cochran photo scandal to a simple statement of fact; the Mississippi Republican Senate primary represents the last chance for the deep-pocketed, Tea Party-affiliated national super political action committees (PACs) to unseat an incumbent Republican U.S. senator.
The narratives are similar as they paint the race as a showdown between the far right and the “establishment” GOP in Mississippi. But a look at the money trail in this race, which has seen super PACS representing Club for Growth, FreedomWorks, Senate Conservatives Fund and others raise the ante on McDaniel’s behalf, shows that this race has taken on a far more national sheen. According to OpenSecrets.org, the Cochran-McDaniel race has attracted $4.8 million in combined official campaign committee funding – with $3.6 million for the Cochran campaign and $1.2 million for the McDaniel campaign. Advantage, Cochran.
But it is in the arena of outside spending by PACs, super PACs or 501c groups – literally a total of $7.8 million in money that was spent by third parties seeking to influence the outcome of the race by advocating issues and supporting or opposing the respective candidates – that the race may well ultimately be defined. Here, the advantage is McDaniel’s.
McDaniel has drawn a whopping $4.5 million in outside spending by groups seeking to elect him or to defeat Cochran. Cochran has drawn $3.2 million in outside spending by groups seeking to elect him or to defeat McDaniel.
As of May 30, Club for Growth alone has spent $2.4 million trying to elect McDaniel and unseat Cochran. Senate Conservatives Fund and Senate Conservatives Action have spent $1.36 million to benefit the McDaniel effort.
The pro-Cochran super PAC Mississippi Conservatives has spent over $1.6 million to elect Cochran and defeat McDaniel. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has spent $500,000 to help Cochran.
All that outside money is outside the official campaigns.
But the reality of Republican primaries in Mississippi is that they represent a ground game get-out-the-vote war for turnout in the state’s top 15 Republican counties: Rankin, DeSoto, Harrison, Jackson, Hinds, Madison, Lauderdale, Lamar, Pearl River, Forrest, Lee, Lowndes, Jones, Simpson and Warren counties.
It will be in these GOP vote-rich counties where the action will be concentrated.
Supporters of incumbent U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran are spending the final days of the campaign reminding Mississippians of the litany of state, county and local elected GOP leaders across the state who are supporting Cochran – including fellow U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, former U.S. Sen. Trent Lott, 1st District U.S. Rep. Alan Nunnelee, 3rd District U.S. Rep. Gregg Harper, 4th District U.S. Rep. Steven Palazzo, Gov. Phil Bryant, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, and Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann among others .
Supporters of state Sen. Chris McDaniel are spending the final days of the campaign reminding Mississippians of the number of Tea Party-affiliated stars who have embraced McDaniel – including former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, and others. Santorum led the 2012 GOP presidential primary in Mississippi with 32.8 percent of the vote.
But if the more than total $11.8 million spent so far in this campaign produced an air war that makes watching TV about as pleasant as a root canal, it is the ground assault – the GOTV effort – that will decide this race on Tuesday.
Sid Salter is a syndicated columnist. Contact him at 601-507-8004 or firstname.lastname@example.org. He is the chief spokesman for Mississippi Statte University.