Okay, so the latest political tantrum from state Sen. Chris McDaniel operates on this narrative – he “demands” that Mississippi television stations stop running ads funded by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce which make the claim that McDaniel is a trial lawyer.
McDaniel wants to be called “a civil defense attorney” while his opponents have labeled him “a personal injury trial lawyer.”
As they did in the 2014 Senate race against former U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran, the U.S. Chamber ads paint McDaniel as a trial lawyer who “made money suing Mississippi businesses, making things harder for folks trying to just earn a living.” The Ellisville attorney faced the same allegations in 2014 after it was revealed that McDaniel was successful in trying a personal injury case on behalf of his cousin. The cousin, an oil rig worker who has since died, was awarded $7 million in the case.
There were other cases, but McDaniel says other lawyers in his firm tried those cases. In denying that he is a trial lawyer, McDaniel’s campaign argued in a press release which read in part: “His law firm’s historical focus . . . is on municipal law, corporate transactional work, and protecting corporate clients from civil lawsuits filed by trial lawyers.”
McDaniel was more focused in the letter to TV stations: “Over the course of my legal career, my casework has been almost exclusively, with very few exceptions, dedicated to corporate transactional work and defending my clients from civil lawsuits brought by trial lawyers.”
McDaniel claims that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is misrepresenting his legal career. But the candidate’s own Hortman, Harlow, Bassi, Robinson & McDaniel law firm’s website page lists the following “practice areas” in which McDaniel claims expertise: “General litigation, insurance defense, personal injury, commercial litigation, constitutional law (civil rights), education law, consumer products litigation, mass tort litigation, and complex multi-party litigation.”
By most reasonable definitions, personal injury, consumer products litigation, and mass tort litigation would qualify under the expertise of a trial lawyer.
Twenty years ago, the escalating political cold war between the state’s trial lawyers and the state’s business/medical interests made tort reform a bedrock issue in Mississippi politics. The formation of the Institute for Consumers and the Environment Political Action Committee (or ICEPAC) gave rise to the influence of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Mississippi elections.
Subsequent legislative adoption of significant tort reforms during the Democratic administration of former Gov. Ronnie Musgrove and later broader medical malpractice tort reforms under the GOP administration of former Gov. Haley Barbour rendered tort reform a second-tier political issue after the Barbour administration.
McDaniel’s anger over the U.S. Chamber ads seem incongruent when compared to some of the political rocks he’s thrown. In digital ad and email after digital ad and email, McDaniel calmly characterizes Republican opponent U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith as “a lifelong Democrat” even after Smith served as a Republican alongside him in the state senate and won two statewide general election campaigns as a Republican for commissioner of agriculture and commerce.
Any criticism of McDaniel by his political opponents is summarily dismissed as “fake news” or part of the supposed vast right-wing establishment conspiracy to keep him out of Washington. But McDaniel has steadfastly defended the half-truths and outright fabrications he’s slinging at opponents as exercises in “swamp draining, liberty loving and freedom fighting.”
The difference is that in 2014, McDaniel was flush with out-of-state Super PAC cash and running against an incumbent in the twilight of his career. This time around, the opponents are hitting back and have superior campaign resources. If the political cavalry is coming to the McDaniel campaign’s rescue, it had better hurry.
Both in recent political polls and in campaign finance reports, McDaniel’s campaign – which essentially began in 2014 against Cochran and has really never stopped – appears to be in danger of foundering.
And to be honest, being labeled a “trial lawyer” is not really the strongest of his current challenges.