Mississippi race: Is Cochran right enough?

As Cochran fights to win renomination in a June 24 runoff against a TEA Party challenger, the race is hinging on a brutal battle over whether he’s sufficiently conservative.

Challenger Chris McDaniel, as well as groups based outside Mississippi, are pounding away at the notion Cochran shares the political philosophy of President Barack Obama.

“In Washington, he votes with the liberals on spending, on judges, even on funding Obamacare,” charges an ad by the conservative Club for Growth Action. The group has made what it calls a “large, six-figure buy” to run the spot on state television.

On the campaign trail, McDaniel hammers away at the same theme. “For 42 years, Sen. Cochran has not been the voice of conservative Mississippi,” McDaniel told a crowd at Harvey’s Restaurant in this small town near the Alabama border.

Cochran seems incredulous when discussing such charges. “It’s up to them to choose who they want to vote for,” he said of his critics. “If they think I haven’t
voted conservative enough, pick out somebody who has and vote for them.”

Cut through the noise and the question is not so much whether Cochran is conservative, but whether he’s in tune with this state’s Republicans in one of the nation’s most conservative states….

…”I’m looking at this massive debt, and Cochran voted to increase the debt,” said Dannie Reed, an Ackerman activist. “It seems like he’s not even trying to cut the budget.”

McDaniel relishes igniting that spark.

“It’s extreme that he would pander to liberal Democrats in a Republican primary because he knows he cannot count on the votes of conservatives,” McDaniel told supporters in Starkville last week.

Cochran and his backers scoff at such talk.

“Conservative leaders in Mississippi are standing beside Sen. Cochran,” said Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves. He ticked off a long list, including Gov. Phil Bryant and former Gov. Haley Barbour.

But to staunch conservatives, Cochran’s record has two big glitches.

One involves his long ago votes on judges. Cochran in 1993 and 1994 voted to confirm Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer, President Clinton’s Supreme Court nominees. He was hardly alone — Ginsburg got 96 votes and Breyer, 87.

Back then, it was still Senate tradition that absent exceptional circumstances, a president is entitled to his team. Cochran did vote against both Obama Supreme Court nominees.

His opponents’ other complaint involve recent spending and debt votes.