I’ve been asked repeatedly why so many sitting officials have openly jumped on the Thad Cochran bandwagon. On the state level the list includes Governor Phil Bryant, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, State Auditor Stacey Pickering, Senator Roger Wicker, Congressman Gregg Harper, Congressman Steven Palazzo, and Congressman Alan Nunnelee.
Bryant even went so far as to write an endorsement in the Clarion Ledger, stating, “I expect during this campaign, there will be negative attacks designed to mislead voters about Cochran’s record. Here’s what I know to be true: Cochran is a pioneer of the Mississippi Republican Party and our conservative principles. Anyone who tells you differently is just not telling you the truth. Cochran has a 100 percent anti-abortion rating from National Right to Life – the country’s largest anti-abortion organization. The National Federation of Independent Business, America’s largest small business association, gives him a 100 percent rating for his work to support small business issues. The National Rifle Association has given Cochran an ‘A’ rating for his support of our 2nd Amendment gun rights.”
Local officials are now joining the push for Cochran as well, lending their names and appearing in press releases.
Traditionally it has been extremely rare for sitting elected officials at any level to openly endorse, actively promote, and help fundraise for a candidate running in a contested party primary, more especially in a Republican primary. The downside almost always outweighs the benefits, just ask those state senators who backed Billy Hewes over Tate Reeves in the 2011 Lieutenant Governor race.
The easy road for officials already in office is to let the primary play out at the ballot box and then get behind the party nominee.
These officials who openly endorse cannot afford to be wrong; they are all on the hook for Cochran, meaning their political machines will be working for his reelection adding another level of coordination his challenger, state senator Chris McDaniel, will not have at his disposal.
So if you’re one of those who want to know why elected officials across the state from city halls to the Capitol don’t mind having their picture made with senior Senator Thad Cochran, quickly dismissing the norm (and believe me they know the usual protocol) the answer is three fold:
1). There has never been as safe a bet in Mississippi politics as Thad Cochran. The ever growing list of officials endorsing Cochran justifies this point. Historical precedent in Mississippi politics doesn’t provide any room for all of these officials to be on the wrong side, and they know it. If Cochran loses, Katy bar the door! Tea party challengers of every shape and size, credible or not will be throwing their name in the ring against every one of these officials come next election hoping for the upset.
2). The potential downside (i.e. political retribution) of not endorsing is greater from a Cochran win than a McDaniel win. Not supporting Thad now could be harmful, humiliating even, if he’s holding the Senate Appropriations gavel, whereas not supporting McDaniel as a freshman with little political capital to expend in D.C. won’t have longterm effects. McDaniel will need these same officials’ support to appear viable meaning a vow renewal would be quickly sought from both sides if he won; Cochran doesn’t need such propaganda to gain credibility among his Senate colleagues.
3). Cochran’s years of service coupled with the volumes of aid he’s given the state whether it be by way of dedicated appropriations (which critics label as pork) or in navigating federal bureaucratic red tape has generated deep loyalty within many who have worked within the parameters of government through those years, especially on the local level. Unless you’ve been in that mix you really can’t understand the depth of that loyalty.
Contrast the list of Cochran endorsements with that on McDaniel’s own campaign site and you will see the chasm he has to cross. A handful of current and former state legislators, a mayor, a police chief, and a handful of local Tea Party groups pales in comparison to the political fortress Cochran had established within about 24 hours of his announcement. That’s just reality.
For all of the national groups and pundits that see excitement in the race, it’s pretty apparent that they haven’t factored in the weight of folks from across the conservative spectrum in Mississippi that have irrevocably thrown their hat in the ring with Cochran… and they can’t afford to be wrong.