What the Hell?

FILE - This Feb. 4, 2014 file photo shows Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss, center, speaking during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington. Republicans in the 2014 midterm elections can’t seem to reach an officia... FILE - This Feb. 4, 2014 file photo shows Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss, center, speaking during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington. Republicans in the 2014 midterm elections can’t seem to reach an official party line on that the old Washington practice of writing the federal budget to benefit the folks back home. Sure, top Republicans like Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell _ now Senate minority leader _ and Cochran begrudgingly banned so-called earmarks more than three years ago. They were reacting both to the tea party’s rise and a push from conservative House Republicans like Georgia Rep. Jack Kingston, now a House Appropriations subcommittee chairman. Cochran is flanked by Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., left, and Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File) MORE LESS
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There are two new polls of the Mississippi Senate primary – one released by a Republican pollster showing Thad Cochran with a slim 5 point lead (45%-40%), and one from a Democratic pollster leaked to TPM’s Daniel Strauss showing McDaniel ahead 46% to 44%. Given margins of error and the inherent difficulties of polling a party primary in an off-year election, to me, these two soundings tell pretty much the same story. And it’s an amazingly bad one for Thad Cochran on a couple levels.

On the first level, you don’t want to be under 50% when you’re getting primaried and your supporters pretty much by definition have a lesser enthusiasm and motivation level than your opponent’s. But beyond that, I’m stunned that the Cochran campaign has managed to get so little mileage out of the whole “Constitutional Clayton” debacle.

McDaniel probably wasn’t behind the decision to break into the nursing home where Cochran’s invalid wife lives. It’s almost unimaginable that anybody other than a few isolated doofuses could have thought this was a good idea. (She’s reportedly in a persistent vegetative state, with very advanced dementia.) And he probably didn’t know about it until after it happened – even if he may have learned about it before it became public knowledge. But the clown crew behind this caper are very much his people. Both literally and figuratively. And as I explained last week, the whole ridiculous idea of filming Cochran’s wife was part of furthering a storyline that McDaniel’s campaign was then aggressively pushing and leaking to various conservative media outlets.

Guilt by association is normally considered a bad method of evidentiary and moral reasoning. But it’s usually more than good enough for campaign purposes. And this effort is so toxic, so politically radioactive, that just being in close proximity to it should be devastating.

In short, Cochran’s team really should have been able to use this to bury McDaniel. And somehow they haven’t. Amazingly, McDaniel seems to have suffered little if any damage from it. The internals of the GOP poll clearly show that the reaction to the incident has been negative and that, when asked, people say it’s made them less likely to support McDaniel. But it just doesn’t seem to show through in the topline numbers.

Maybe Cochran’s time is just up. Perhaps the most telling number in the survey is “Do you support the goals and ideals of the Tea Party?” 55% say yes, 21% say no. That’s a very good number for McDaniel to work with. But the mix of topline and internal numbers I referenced above suggests a major failure on Cochran’s campaign’s part. With a focused message about what the break-in represents and a mountain of campaign money dumped into the race, Cochran should have been able to bury McDaniel and I suspect they could have. But there’s now only three days left and it hasn’t happened.

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