Clarion Ledger assistant editor Sam Hall noted in a piece a few weeks back that state Sen. Michael Watson may have been a better candidate than his colleague Chris McDaniel in this year’s Republican U.S. Senate primary.
While it’s true that Watson doesn’t have the baggage McDaniel had (old radio shows, questionable associations, etc.), the two termer from Pascagoula lacks the vast home county support Jones County showed their native son. There’s no possible way Watson would have beaten Cochran by 10,000 votes in Jackson County. While some view him as ambitious and with a promising future, many in Jackson County see more of an air of arrogance, even perhaps an opportunistic self promoting political ladder climber who doesn’t work well with others around the Capitol.
And now, thanks to his being tied at the hip with McDaniel throughout the campaign and having taken the bait on this hostage crisis of a election challenge, the powers that be in Jackson County are scrambling to find young Watson an opponent come January 2015 qualifying, seeing a chink on his armor.
However, those efforts may well be for nought.
When you review the Republican primary numbers in Jackson County it was the more rural areas that buoyed McDaniel, namely Watson’s state senate district. Voters in this area aren’t likely to hold a grudge against their boy for his time on the trail with McDaniel come next year, unless a case can be made otherwise.
And it can be, with the right candidate with enough money, more than a few volunteers, and the right messaging.
Any opponent Watson draws will have to laser in on his position and respect level around the state Capitol, and how that translates into his service on behalf of voters. Due to his repeatedly poor choice of associations in Jackson (Hewes, Senate Conservative Coalition, McDaniel) and even poorer choice of words at times (routinely calling out state officials and Senate leadership), Watson has essentially neutralized himself and is having a difficult time effectively representing his constituents or passing legislation he drafts.
A prime example was last year’s bill Watson dropped to change the state seal to read “In God We Trust.” Gov. Phil Bryant even promoted it in his State of the State address, naming Watson as the sponsor. But the measure was added to another bill by Senate leadership and passed, essentially cutting Watson out of the loop. Even in something as innocuous and overwhelmingly positive as this, Watson was legislatively neutered.
As a matter of fact when you review the bills Watson was the principal author on during the 2014 session every single one of them died in committee, according to the Legislature’s website. But he was in good company with that record; McDaniel had a similar record.
So the case is there to be made if Watson does draw a challenger in his state senate district, and from all indications a credible challenger will not be wanting for money. The “Establishment” in Jackson and many community leaders on the coast will make sure of that.
But such a challenge isn’t likely to materialize; a relatively low credible candidate pool in that area adds to the enormity of the undertaking. If Watson runs for reelection, he is likely to cruise to a win despite his record.
There has been misguided, yet hopeful speculation by some that Watson, not McDaniel, would run against Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves in 2015. Let me be the first of many to say that this would be a bloodbath.
Despite the overhyped rhetoric from some Tea Party types, Reeves may well be more Tea Party than the Tea Party when you look at his record. Add in the fact that he has a strong hold on the Senate, has a nice war chest on hand with the ability to easily acquire more with a few phone calls, and is well respected even among the black members and a Watson challenge just becomes next to impossible.
Watson will not be able to raise the money necessary or obtain enough earned or unearned media to elevate his name ID to make it a real race. And as McDaniel’s right hand man, Watson’s image is tarnished in many areas of the state (the longer the challenge goes it just gets worse for all the merry men and women who surround McDaniel and encourage the continued rhetoric).
Although, there remains one area where Watson is still a threat – the 4th Congressional District. Understanding that 18 months to 2 years is an eternity in politics, it would not surprise me one bit to see Watson challenge Congressman Steven Palazzo come 2016.
Rumors swirled of a Watson run for Congress in 2010 versus Gene Taylor but he didn’t pull the trigger; Palazzo did and has quickly worked his way up within Congressional ranks.
When you look at the numbers in the 4th District, Palazzo’s base isn’t the coast where he’s from, it’s the Pinebelt. McDaniel overwhelmingly won the Pinebelt and the 4th District. If McDaniel himself doesn’t call dibs and stake a claim on vying for the seat, his lieutenant is well positioned to use the McDaniel name and machine to give Palazzo a real challenge, one even Taylor couldn’t provide.
Watson would likely win Jackson County, split Harrison County, and potentially win Hancock County (the old Gene Taylor stronghold), leaving the Pinebelt to break in large measure for the McDaniel connection, meaning all the time Watson invested with McDaniel over the last year and the criticism he’s drawn may have a purpose after all.
By jove, Watson, I think we figured it out.