Big Backers Fuel Down-and-Dirty Senate Race in Mississippi

Mississippi’s Republican senate primary has been full of drama and many of those instances have turned the eyes of the country to the state.

One reason is because the June 3 primary between six-term Sen. Thad Cochran and state Sen. Chris McDaniel is seen by many as a face-off between the GOP establishment and the Tea Party.

The latest chapter in the saga was blogger Clayton Kelly, 28, who has written posts in support of McDaniel, being arrested by authorities in Madison County for taking a photograph of Cochran’s wife, Rose, on Friday in her room at the nursing home where she’s suffering from dementia. Kelly was charged with exploiting a vulnerable adult.

“I’ve reached out to Senator Cochran directly to express my abhorrence for the reprehensible actions of this individual,” McDaniel said in a statement. “This criminal act is deeply offensive and my team and I categorically reject such appalling behavior.”

According to the statement, the campaign has no relationship with Kelly.

However, the Cochran campaign is questioning how McDaniel’s campaign manager, state Sen. Melanie Sojourner, apparently knew about the arrest before it hit the headlines.

Cochran spokesman Jordan Russell told a Jackson newspaper that the McDaniel campaign’s version of events was inconsistent.

“I think it would be interesting to know how (Sojourner) would hear about it before 7:45 a.m.,” he said.

"The McDaniel campaign found out about the break-in when a local political blog posted about it at 11:40 p.m. last night,” McDaniel spokesman Noel Fritch said. “Senator McDaniel has denounced the break-in and called Senator Cochran to extend his condolences. It is unconscionable for the Cochran campaign and the liberal media to use the act of a sick individual to lob despicable accusations.”

The campaign then kicked off the week by touting a Citizens United Political Victory Fund poll showing McDaniel ahead of Cochran by four points, and a Tea Party Patriots Citizens Fund putting the lead at 7 percent.

McDaniel is on his second term in the state Senate and represents District 42 north of Hattiesburg.

The state senator from the Pine Belt will be aiming to unseat Cochran, who was the first Republican to win statewide election in 1978 and is now serving his sixth term in Washington. He previously served in the House for six years before he won a seat in the Senate and used to chair the Senate Appropriations Committee.

McDaniel is the Tea Party-favored candidate and serves as the chairman of the state Senate Elections Committee. Cochran currently serves as the ranking member on the Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee.

While Cochran has seniority, McDaniel thinks it is not that big of a benefit.

“It does make me question, what good is seniority if he’s not fighting for us, being courageous for us,” he told a local newspaper at a campaign stop in Ocean Springs. “Name a single fight Sen. Cochran has led. Name a single time he has raised his voice against this administration.”

McDaniel said a recent ad by the Cochran campaign depicting him as being weak on a pharmaceutical law intended to curb methamphetamine production was not true. He said he voted against the bill, however, because of the law’s failure in another state.

“I did the research,” he said. “I actually read the bill. I researched its effects. I even researched what Oregon did. Oregon passed something very similar. Guess what we found? The bill doesn’t work as advertised. What it does is inconvenience thousands of law-abiding citizens, forces their healthcare costs up, and forces the state’s Medicaid costs up.”

McDaniel said instead of going to a drugstore and buying the sinus medication pseudoephedrine, an ingredient used to make the drug, citizens would be forced to pay a higher price when purchasing the medicine from a doctor. It also didn’t reduce methamphetamine use in Oregon, he said.

Cochran has taken recent steps toward attempting to improve the economy in the state.