Sen. Cochran’s Hail Mary Strategy: Tea Partier Is Austerity-Crazed Rookie


In the last few days before the runoff election between incumbent Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS) and state Sen. Chris McDaniel (R-MS), Cochran and his supporters are not hyping the senator’s conservative bona fides or making clear plays to woo tea partiers who support McDaniel. Rather — the longtime senator who could very well lose in the runoff— is attacking McDaniel as a bit too ready to cut spending everywhere and unpolished to become a U.S. Senator representing Mississippi.

One recent ad by Cochran’s campaign, for instance, hits McDaniel over his days as a radio host where he ranted against libertarianism, a candidate who McDaniel said was using her “boobies” to get elected, and made fun of whiny minorities.

“It’s so interesting to see this woman, basically using her #%$^@&!…using her a breasts to run for office,” McDaniel is clipped saying in the ad.

Meanwhile the Chamber of Commerce, which supports Cochran, on Monday released a new ad following news that it would spend $308,000 to help Cochran survive the runoff. That ad describes how Cochran is a “tested leader” who has brought “honor and dignity to Mississippi.”

“He’s respected, a tested leader fighting for Mississippi. Bringing honor and dignity to our state,” the narrator in the new Chamber ad said. “Thad Cochran, conservative, dependable, one of us.”

Cochran’s campaign has also sent out fundraising emails trying to turn Ron Paul’s recent endorsement of McDaniel against the state senator.

“Ron Paul supports cutting our military. Chris McDaniel agrees, which explains his vote against $2 million for Mississippi to fight against base closures,” one Cochran campaign email sent out on Saturday said. “Ron Paul wants to harm public schools. Chris McDaniel agrees, calling the $1.5 billion Mississippi receives in federal education funding “unconstitutional.”

On Thursday the Cochran campaign released a statement hitting McDaniel on highway funding.

“Mississippians know it’s dangerous that Chris McDaniel and his campaign refuse to support necessary highway resources,” Cochran said in that statement. “Our state needs safe roads and bridges to get our kids to school and keep commerce moving throughout Mississippi.”

The overarching argument of this approach is to simultaneously paint McDaniel as not ready for primetime and also as a legislator who wants to cut everything and anything while Cochran supports keeping much-needed federal funding to come to Mississippi.

It’s hard to say how well this strategy is working. The weighted results of a new poll by Democratic pollster Chism Strategies found Cochran leading McDaniel by 1 percentage point, 48 percent to 47 percent, a shift from a previous Chism Strategies poll which found McDaniel leading Cochran 46 percent to 44 percent. But Brad Chism of Chism Strategies stressed caution in releasing the poll. If anything, Chism suggested, Cochran’s approach might actually help McDaniel. Other recent polls have shown McDaniel with a wider lead over Cochran.

This Friday night survey shows Cochran rebounds a bit after the pivot on messaging. It’s hard for me to believe this is a trend,” Chism said. “The irony is astounding. We see Trent Lott reminding voters they need the federal government in their lives. Dangerous gamble for Cochran. Every 30 second spot energizes McDaniel’s base.”

In an interview with TPM Chism noted that the latest attacks are a bit of a contrast from before the runoff when Cochran and McDaniel were both arguing over who opposed Obamacare more and who was the real conservative.

“President Obama has taken America down the wrong path but starting tomorrow, we can get our country back on the right path. That starts with repealing Obamacare permanently,” Cochran said in a fundraising email a day before the primary election.

It’s hard to see that claim being effective at this point. The most hardcore McDaniel supporters don’t appear to be budging from him and anti-Cochran tea partiers have recently attacked Cochran hard for essentially getting a funding boost from gun control advocate former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg (I), (never mind that Cochran has an A+ rating from the NRA).

“If you look at the primary campaign it was about who hated Obama the most,” Chism said referring to the race before it went to a runoff. “Who hated Obama the most … There was an appeal to the hearts and minds of very conservative Republican primary voters.”

Cochran campaign Communications Director Jordan Russell refused to say this new approach was a type of pivot.

“I think that it’s an effort to remind people of all the good things that Senator Cochran’s done for the state and that he can do more in the next term,” Russell told TPM. “It’s all part of the same message … He puts Mississippi first. I think you’re starting to see more and more of the contrast between Chris McDaniel and Sen. Cochran.”