But as important as that development was for the future of the state, a race in next-door Mississippi may actually end up having a greater impact on Alabama than any individual race that took place yesterday in the Yellowhammer State.
Mississippi State Senator Chris McDaniel is challenging U.S. Senator Thad Cochran, who is seeking a seventh(!) term. POLITICO described the contentious race as “savagely personal.” And various outside groups have dumped in roughly $8 million to swing it in their preferred direction.
Last night, McDaniel held on tight to less than a 1-percentage-point lead over Cochran, but neither candidate quite reached 50 percent. The race will now go to a runoff, set to take place in three weeks.
The national media has been paying close attention to this race. Many of them are framing it as an indication of whether the so-called establishment is finally positioned to declare ultimate victory over the tea party.
But Alabamians have a much different reason to pay close attention to what happens over the next 21 days in Mississippi.
Thad Cochran is the second-longest serving Republican in the Senate. If he wins and Republicans retake the Senate in November, he will become the chairman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, the panel that plays a leading role in deciding where the government spends its money. Alabama’s senior U.S. Senator Richard Shelby would be the second-ranking member of the Appropriations Committee, and would become the chairman of the Banking Committee, another powerful panel that deals with a wide range of issues directly impacting the economy, from financial institutions and the Federal Reserve to housing finance.
However, if Cochran loses his runoff in Mississippi, Shelby would be well positioned at that point to move over to chair Appropriations.
That is a huge deal for a couple of reasons.
Sen. Richard Shelby
First of all, Shelby is already a legendary deal maker on the Appropriations Committee. There is a reason why universities around the state have research facilities named after him. He even managed to get a line item in President Obama’s budget — as a Republican — that starts the process of expanding the Port of Mobile.
Secondly, with Republicans in control of the Senate, Alabama’s junior U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions would become the chairman of the Budget Committee, which sets the federal government’s spending levels. So there is a very realistic scenario in which one Alabama senator (Sessions) would set the spending amount, and the other Alabama senator (Shelby) would lead the debate on where that amount of money is spent.
Sen. Shelby isn’t by any means pushing for Cochran to lose. He even recently hosted a fundraiser for him in Huntsville.
There’s also a pretty strong reason many conservatives will be rooting for Shelby to chair the Banking Committee, rather than Appropriations.
If McDaniel defeats Cochran and sets in motion everything we just laid out above, big banks would then get their preferred Senate Banking Committee chairman, Mike Crapo (R-Id.), instead of Shelby, who has taken much stricter positions against asking taxpayers to prop up the country’s major financial institutions.