“To me, it would have been a tragedy if Thad had lost the primary,” said Stevens, who remembers knocking on doors for Cochran’s first House race in 1972. “I was a page for the congressman before him. I remember him, still, when he was a civic leader — you know, back in the days when there was so much racial trouble and he was always a voice of calm.”
The importance of Thad Cochran, he said, is “hard for people not from Mississippi to understand.”
“At a time when a lot of people were trying to get elected appealing to our worst instincts, Thad never did,” Stevens said. “His opponent’s style just didn’t wear well with people. I think when you start angry and the only thing you have left is to get more angry, it wears on people. You just seem angry and not to a particular purpose.”
If Stevens ever fit the profile of a stereotypical Deep South political consultant, a lot of time has passed since then. A sometime screenwriter with an obsessive athletic streak — he chose his Mississippi hotel due to the proximity of running trails and a CrossFit location — he has authored books about trekking across China and blazing a trail through the high-end restaurants of Europe. A big-picture strategist who made his national reputation writing TV ad scripts, Stevens is known among his peers as an enthusiastic raconteur who will rarely answer with a declarative sentence when a rambling yarn will do.