In addition to having a larger war chest, Wicker has a number of advantages that would make him the early favorite against McDaniel. “Wicker loves campaigning,” says the GOP operative. “He’s not afraid to debate. He likes a fight. He’s not afraid to go all over the state. It will be a very different race from last time,” when McDaniel ran against Cochran. “Right now, McDaniel presents himself as a martyr to his base. If he loses again, he’s not a martyr, he’s just a loser.”
A big factor in Wicker’s favor is that Trump has endorsed him. “Trump’s numbers are strong in Mississippi,” says the observer. “It certainly helps Roger that Trump is supporting him. And McDaniel was a big Cruz supporter.” Moreover, Wicker is staying close to Trump. He publicly criticized US Sen. Bob Corker’s (R-TN) harsh attack on
Trump earlier this year. And in late October, he penned an op-ed accusing Democrats of delaying confirmation of the President’s appointments.
Tea Party leaders are urging Trump to stay out of the Mississippi Senate race; they point to his intervention in Alabama’s special senate election which did not help US Sen. Strange stave off the successful challenge by Moore.
“Six months ago, we were looking for a walk-in for Senator Wicker… Now, it’s looking like a heated primary,” says Dr. Dallas Breen, Executive Director of the John C. Stennis Institute of Government. “There is definitely some movement toward McDaniel entering into the Republican Senate primary. He’s been given encouragement by [former Trump advisor] Steve Bannon.” Breen adds, “McDaniel was viewed more as a state candidate, but once Bannon mentioned his name, people began to think about him for the Senate. Bannon’s presence seems to have stirred an interest in the Senate race.”
Bannon wants to “make Mississippi the next domino to fall in an insurgency that would remake the Senate – and the Republican Party,” the New York Times reported last month. Bannon wants the candidates he endorses to support ending the Senate’s filibuster rule, which effectively means it takes 60 votes to pass legislation. He also wants them to support removing Mitch McConnell from his post as Senate Majority Leader. McDaniel refers to Wicker as McConnell’s “yes man” and calls for Wicker to support the abolition of the filibuster.
While Bannon supported Moore in Alabama, he bought only about $10,000 worth of TV spots there, hardly a major contribution. But Breen says that Bannon’s influence is “not so much money” but his significant presence on social media, which has become a force in its own right.
There is some uncertainty, however, about what McDaniel’s future course will be. He had said earlier that he would announce by the end of October, but October came and went with no word from McDaniel. Moreover, by this time in 2013, he had already announced and was putting together a strong campaign.
Southern Political Report