Firebrand Mississippi state Sen. Chris McDaniel (R) officially launched his uphill campaign against Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS) on Wednesday, blasting the senator as a fake conservative as he unveiled his second Senate bid.
The controversial lawmaker nearly defeated Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS) four years ago in a Tea Party-fueled primary, and still maintains the was stolen from him — “It was four years ago but we still remember Mississippi, don’t we?” he said almost immediately after taking the stage on Wednesday.
Ever since then he’s been biding his time for another run, and for months debated whether to challenge Wicker or wait and see if Cochran resigns from office because of his declining health. He’d also mulled a run for lieutenant governor.
But Wicker is no Cochran – and 2018 isn’t 2014. The senator is much sharper than his aging colleague, has a huge campaign war chest, is fresh off helming the National Republican Senatorial Committee last election cycle, and doesn’t have as many policy openings for McDaniel to attack him on as Cochran did.
And unlike in 2014, when McDaniel could claim mostly unified support from the hard right, Wicker has an endorsement from President Trump — and can easily point to McDaniel’s multiple criticisms of Trump as “thin skinned” and not a “constitutional conservative” during the 2016 primary.
McDaniel peppered his speech with right-wing grievance politics, warning that Washington elites “look down on us, and they mock us,” excoriating Wicker for calling for Mississippi to remove the Confederate battle flag from its state flag, and accusing him of voting to fund Planned Parenthood (he’s long voted against federal funding for the organization).
And he nodded to Trump’s endorsement, pointing out the president also recently backed Mitt Romney and one of Jeb Bush’s sons while arguing that he needed more conservatives so he wouldn’t have to cut as many deals.
“Thank god for President Trump, he’s made Roger Wicker a conservative for about three weeks,” he joked.
But while Trump’s endorsement may not be enough alone to boost Wicker to a win — it certainly wasn’t for Sen. Luther Strange (R-AL) — McDaniel’s earlier criticisms of the president could do him much as they did in Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL), who also lost that Alabama primary.
“Well, it’s all downhill from there,” McDaniel joked as he took the stage in Ellisville, Mississippi on Wednesday to roars from his die-hard supporters.
It just might be.