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Mississippi U.S. Senate: The Race is On
Field appears set for Republican Senate primary; Democrats weigh options

by Frank Corder
Mississippi's U.S. Senate race is shaping up following Sen. Thad Cochran's reelection announcement last Friday.

Cochran is now set to face state Sen. Chris McDaniel in the June 2014 Republican primary.

After his decision was released, Cochran quickly picked up a slew of personal endorsements from the state's upper level officials, including Gov. Phil Bryant, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, State Auditor Stacey Pickering, and Congressman Gregg Harper. Congressmen Alan Nunnelee and Steven Palazzo also offered hearty congratulations and welcomed the senior Senator's decision.

To date, McDaniel has touted endorsements from out of state conservative groups, such as the Club for Growth and the Senate Conservative Fund, along with the personal endorsements of his fellow state senators in the Senate Conservative Coalition. Petal Mayor Hal Marx has also publicly endorsed McDaniel via Twitter.

Opinions among insiders and citizens around the state vary widely, with some viewing this matchup as Cochran's first real challenge in 30 years while others have written off McDaniel altogether.

National pundits have taken notice and are painting the race as the Tea Party David versus the establishment Goliath.

GOP Primary Strategy

If you're talking political strategy, a Cochran reelection bid was the clearest path forward for McDaniel. This is the race the McDaniel campaign wanted, not the crowded field that would have occurred had Cochran bowed out.

McDaniel will now seek to parlay his self-styled ideological conservatism into real votes statewide. The vetting is about to begin in earnest for McDaniel who has never faced statewide and national scrutiny. His will be a campaign of self-definition and bridled criticism of his opponent.

For Cochran, he will rely on his record despite the criticism that will come, outlining how his service has benefited the state time after time after time. He will have to reengage voters and solidify support, while finding appeal among the younger demographic. Campaigning in person will be key. Cochran's campaign will also need to engage social media and find common ground with Tea Partiers through a focused dialogue. He will need to have really good people in place.

Democrat Strategy

Democrats will continue to promote the real or perceived polarization within the Republican Party to gain ground in the minds of UIVs (uninformed, uninvolved voters). They want the Cochran-McDaniel race to get ugly.

Mississippi Democrats have much to ponder.

State Chairman Rickey Cole has stated that Democrats will have a candidate for U.S. Senate in 2014. He also vehemently does not want to see McDaniel in the Senate seat. He tweeted YP Friday: "I believe it would be the worst outcome for Mississippi and for the United States if Chris McDaniel were elected US Senator."

They’ve got an interesting decision.

With qualifying deadline not till March 1, Democrats can afford to see how the Cochran-McDaniel race is taking shape. If Cochran looks weak or looks like he might not get out of the primary, a stronger Democrat (Mabus or Musgrove) might be enticed to take it on.

If Cochran remains the odds-on favorite and a stronger Democrat does not want to run against him, then they might settle for a less-known candidate just to field someone in the race. That scenario works only if Democrats can keep their house in order, which historically hasn’t been their strong suit.

And there’s still a real scenario that says that Democrats could cross party lines and vote in the Republican primary for Cochran, merely to edge out McDaniel.

However, should Chris McDaniel survive a primary, that race would give Democrats an easier road to victory and entice national interest and money. That path remains bumpy and highly unlikely.

Posted December 9, 2013 - 10:04 am

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