GULFPORT, MS – JUNE 22: U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS) looks on during a campaign rally at Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport on June 22, 2014 in Gulfport, Mississippi. Tea Party-backed Republican candidate for U.S. Senate Chris McDaniel, a Mississippi state senator, is locked in a tight runoff race with incumbent U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS) who failed to win the nomination in the primary election. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
PASCAGOULA, Miss. – Hundreds of workers arrive at sunrise at the Ingalls shipyard on the Gulf Coast, and there to greet them are a dozen campaign volunteers with fliers and signs that say, “Save our Jobs.”
In the middle is a small, white-haired man shaking the hand of anyone willing to take his own. “I’m Thad Cochran,” the 76-year-old U.S. senator said again and again. “I hope you have a nice day.”
If Cochran is to prevail Tuesday in a runoff election against Chris McDaniel, a tea party-backed challenger who came close to outright victory in the June 3 primary, he probably will need some of those shipyard workers to change their minds this time – or actually turn out and vote for him.
The Gulf Coast ought to be Cochran’s ace. It’s the part of Mississippi perhaps most dependent on the federal dollars Cochran has made a career of delivering. It’s home to defense contractors such as Ingalls, the nearby Stennis Space Center and military bases that include Keesler Air Force Base.
Thousands of households and businesses were rebuilt after Hurricane Katrina with the help of federal money Cochran helped secure.
But instead of going for Cochran in the primary, the 10 counties of southeast Mississippi went for McDaniel by 3,800 votes, nearly triple his statewide margin.
All else equal, winning over a few of those headed to work at Ingalls Shipbuilding that recent morning could be enough for Cochran to win.
Organized labor might normally stand with a Democrat, but this is deeply conservative Mississippi, and this union endorses Cochran, a Republican who has served in Congress for more than four decades and isn’t shy about using the power of his seniority to benefit his home state.