For Tea Party, Senate race in Mississippi is the last chance to oust an incumbent

WASHINGTON — The feud between the Republican establishment and the Tea Party has engendered more whimpers than war cries so far. The notable exception is in Mississippi, where the campaign to unseat Senator Thad Cochran has become the nastiest, and most personal, in the nation.

Supporters of the senator’s Republican primary opponent, Chris McDaniel, have charged that Mr. Cochran has shown favoritism toward his longtime executive assistant, Kay Webber, even as his wife, Rose, is in a nursing home suffering from dementia.

The accusations took a bizarre turn this month when a conservative blogger, Clayton Thomas Kelly, was arrested on allegations of entering the nursing home on April 20 to photograph the bedridden Ms. Cochran without her permission. Three others were arrested last week, and all four face criminal charges related to the episode.

Mr. Cochran’s campaign responded by making a political commercial using footage of Mr. Kelly in handcuffs. Over foreboding music, the narrator says, “It’s the worst: A Chris McDaniel supporter charged with a felony for posting video of Senator Thad Cochran’s wife in a nursing home,” adding, “Rise up and say no to dirty politics.”

Chris McDaniel, a state senator with strong Tea Party backing, has questioned Mr. Cochran’s relationship with an aide. Credit William Widmer for The New York Times

Mississippi politics has always had a rough edge under the veneer of Southern gentility, but this race has reached another level. Mr. Cochran is a politician in the old-school tradition, with a courtly manner and, through his seniority, a high-powered ability to deliver federal dollars to one of the nation’s poorest states. In his 2008 re-election campaign, he ran unopposed in the primary.