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The State of the Cochran vs. McDaniel Race
A tale of two gaffes and a bottom line analysis

by Frank Corder
WARNING: This article may frustrate a number of readers, but it is where we are in Mississippi heading toward the June 3 Republican primary.


A Tale of Two Gaffes

Two remarks have defined the Mississippi Republican primary race for U.S. Senate thus far, one from Thad Cochran and the other from Chris McDaniel.
 
A month ago Cochran stated that he didn't know much about the Tea Party.  He said the same again last week in a slightly different way.
 
Around the same time, McDaniel was quoted in Politico as being unsure how he would have voted on Hurricane Katrina relief, saying it would not have been an easy vote to cast.
 
Both statements have drawn much ire from a variety of groups, but truth be told the impact of the ill-advised gaffes could not be farther apart.  
 
Cochran’s remarks touched thousands of people who solely identify as a Tea Party voter - it was short lived; McDaniel’s remark, however, touched hundreds of thousands of Mississippians who still vividly remember the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.  Heck, most are still living the effects of it.
 
In an effort to reconnect with Coast voters and clarify his position, the McDaniel campaign has made it a point to be in the lower half of the state a lot over the past month, spending thousands of precious campaign dollars to host events while making the rounds on local media.  They recognize the damage control needed in the area, especially with Cochran just down the street being praised for his leadership to rebuild the Coast following Katrina from some of the state's largest employers and the Coast's most well-known community leaders.  
 
The recent passage of the Flood Insurance Reform bill by both the U.S. House and the U.S. Senate further helped Cochran's connection with the Coast and drove a deeper divide with McDaniel.  Cochran's effort on the measure has been welcomed and greatly appreciated by homeowners and businesses due to the Draconian increases the NFIP was looking to impose on the low lying areas as a result of FEMA's controversial mapping making much of the Coast almost uninhabitable due to the rising cost of flood insurance. 
 
McDaniel’s campaign has not commented on the Flood Insurance Reform bill, a real pocketbook issue which translates into thousands of dollars per Coast household. The Delta and other low lying areas in the state are also impacted by this.  Repeated requests by Y’allPolitics have been acknowledged by the McDaniel campaign but as of yet has not yielded a response on whether or not McDaniel would have supported the flood insurance reform bill.
 
Perhaps the most striking statement separating McDaniel from the Coast came last week when Gulfport Mayor Billy Hewes, a popular figure in the second largest city in the state, said the area was "Thad Cochran Country." 
?
Along with those points, when you add in the headscratcher votes in the Mississippi Legislature McDaniel has had recently, either by voting "present" on the Education Appropriations bill or voting for the confirmation of the State Education Superintendent, by virtue of being absent from the vote, he has had a pretty mixed month in political terms, even within his base.

So when you compare Cochran's Tea Party gaffe with that of McDaniel's Katrina gaffe, it is easy to see which has been more costly at this juncture.
 
The Bottom Line

McDaniel has made up no ground in the last month.  While he has raked in endorsements of the national talk radio crowd (i.e. Glenn Beck, Phyllis Schlafly, Gary Bauer and Sarah Palin) there’s no evidence that he’s made any significant inroads in coalescing meaningful support from opinion leaders in Mississippi.  In fact, about 90% of the folks that have endorsed McDaniel in the last month have one thing in common... they can’t vote in a Mississippi Republican Primary.

Meanwhile, Cochran has been moving around from event to event in a very low-key, workmanlike fashion, with no glitz or glam.  He picked up the endorsement of the Bully Bloc and the Mississippi Manufacturers Association, not to mention the NRA.  He’s had big events in Rankin County, on the Coast and at Ingalls Shipbuilding, and other areas around the state.  Add that to the fact that just about every sitting statewide official and Republican congressman has already endorsed Cochran and it sets the stage for how high the hurdle remains for McDaniel.

For all of the national columnists and media types like Larry Sabato, Breitbart, AP, Newsmax, the New York Times and everyone else calling this primary the most contentious primary of the midterm cycle, there is absolutely no evidence on the ground that this race is close.  Yes, many national pundits are weighing in, but none of them have bothered to see what’s actually happening on the ground.  Advantage goes to the incumbent thus far.

Cue the internal polling releases after this post.

Both Cochran and the MS Conservatives PAC (a pro-Cochran group) have been on TV non-stop for over a month.  McDaniel doesn’t appear to be on TV anywhere as of late and the SuperPACs supporting him do not have any active ads running that we’ve been able to ascertain. I’m sure that will change in short order, but will it be too little, too late?  

We’ll know a lot more in a couple of weeks when the campaigns file their FEC campaign finance statements, on which they are now focused; they are actively requesting more money from supporters to drive the numbers up. Why? Because in politics, money in the coffers makes you seem viable. Cochran would appear to have the advantage here once again, however McDaniel's connections with outside groups could be beneficial as we head into the final leg of the race.

To win, McDaniel must cut into the base of Cochran, and that will not be done using the same strategy he's employed so far.  Again, for all of the national attention he’s gotten, there’s no evidence whatsoever that McDaniel is any closer to getting media endorsements or significant support from elected officials in any area of the state. If it's coming, it needs to come soon.  With less than 75 days to go, time is not McDaniel's friend and that means continued trouble for the challenger down the stretch unless he can shift gears swiftly.

Posted March 25, 2014 - 1:00 pm

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