In Mississippi, Senate hopeful Chris McDaniel embodies what the GOP fears about the tea party

COLDWATER, Miss. — Amid the Confederate flags, the guns and the pigs — in pens and on plates — Chris McDaniel worked the Tate County Fair in search of votes in his quest to beat Sen. Thad Cochran in a runoff election in two weeks.

“I need you,” McDaniel said to Brandy Davis, before also greeting Bobby Goodwin, a heavyset man carrying a handgun, at a booth for the Citizens Militia of Mississippi. The members of the militia, whose motto is “Any fate but submission,” implored the Republican to take a hard-line stance on immigration and gun rights. McDaniel assured them that he would and that he is not “going to join any club” in Washington….

…The prospect of a McDaniel primary win has given Democrats a glimmer of hope that they can claim a victory in an unexpected place this year, just as they did in 2012 in beating Akin, as well as Senate candidate Richard Mourdock in Indiana.

“If Republicans fumble and nominate McDaniel, we’ll be ready to catch the ball,” said Rickey Cole, chairman of the Mississippi Democratic Party. In former congressman Travis Childers, who supports gun rights, voted against the Affordable Care Act and holds antiabortion views, Democrats think they have a nominee who could be competitive….

…In the days following the primary election, the McDaniel campaign appeared as though it was not quite ready for a runoff. With thousands of potential supporters at the fair, the team barely attempted to collect e-mail addresses or phone numbers. A single staff member held a roll of navy-blue “McDaniel for Senate” stickers.

“I wish there were some television cameras here to show people how good he is with this kind of crowd,” Don Abernathy, McDaniel’s DeSoto County chairman, said as he followed the candidate around the fair. The only pictures being taken were by campaign manager Melanie Sojourner, who later tweeted a lone shot of McDaniel shaking the hand of a young boy in a wagon.

Asked whether they were prepared for the runoff, Sojourner said that the campaign didn’t think there would be one and that days before the primary, “we looked at each other and said we don’t want to wake up” and have thousands of dollars left unspent.

McDaniel, a lawyer who looks a bit like he’s in a fraternity — untucked button-down shirt, colorful silicone gel bracelets and a choker necklace — did not seem to relish the glad-handing. He wandered on his own several times to send texts or make phone calls, and when he did talk to people he mostly recited a series of conservative platitudes.

At one point, he spotted three rabbits sitting atop a wire cage and, without saying a word to the seller, started to pet one. He remained there for a minute, his head dipped and his hand slowly grazing the animal’s ears, until a man smoking a cigarette and wearing a hunting cap hoisted his son next to the rabbits. McDaniel, slightly startled, looked over and walked off….

Washington Post