No Sentiment in Politics: Cochran on the Brink

There may have been a time when a septuagenarian like Mississippi's 6-term Senator Thad Cochran would have breezed to renomination and re-election. Voter sentimentality would have rewarded him for past service, even though the infirmities of age -- and a long tenure in Washington -- might otherwise have been liabilities that would have helped defeat him.

Today, those liabilities -- both real and perceived -- are likely to end his 4 decade political career. There is no longer room for sentiment in politics. Harsh realities and the perception that Cochran has lost his connection to the people by getting too comfortable with the Washington elites will probably doom him to a humiliating primary defeat today.

Cochran's very effectiveness as a Senator has been turned against him. The tens of billions of dollars he has personally steered to his constituents in Mississippi has been dismissed as "pork" by his opponents and his careful nurturing of relationships with Democrats across the aisle that culminated in a $29 billion aid package for the Gulf Coast after hurricane Katrina has been redefined as accommodation with the enemy.

Such could be said about much of Cochran's low-key legislating over the years, as this CNN report pointed out:

Though the Cook Political Report and the Rothenberg Political Report both have the senate seat as remaining solidly in the Republican column, Stuart Rothenberg in April wrote: "Cochran, 76, is in trouble — in deep trouble — primarily because of changes in the Republican Party. But it's also true that the senator, and his campaign, didn't start his re-election effort where they needed to be."

That's partly because the very thing Cochran has cited as a strength: his tenure in Washington and power broker status, has been used by his tea party backed opponent to paint him as an antiquated Beltway insider.

In 2010, Citizens Against Government Waste, a non profit government spending watchdog group, dubbed Cochran the "king of earmarks" after he netted roughly $490 million for projects he favored.

Cochran has served as the chairman of the Appropriations Committee and the Agriculture Committee. In this role, he was able to help net federal funding for his alma mater, the University of Mississippi, for medical research, as well as money for defense contractors and protected the interests of Mississippi farmers, Barbour said.

"He has worked hard in the state to make sure Mississippi got its fair share," Barbour said.

Barbour's nephew, Henry, is an adviser to Mississippi Conservatives, a super PAC that is trying to get Cochran re-elected.

Still, the challenge from McDaniel has Cochran on the defense, Bruce said.

And well he should be on the defense, given his record. Earmarking, now forbidden in Congress, was an unaccountable means of spending that encouraged profligacy and waste. Of course, getting rid of them hasn't slowed the growth of spending or cut back on the waste. But at least now Congress is more accountable to the taxpayer for their votes.

Cochran is a victim of the changing definition of legislator. No longer is it important what a congressman or senator achieves for his district or state. A lawmaker is now judged on how ideologically pure they are, how intensely they join the battle between the two sides, and how closely they are perceived to be to the power elites in Washington.

Cochran strikes out on all three criteria. It's not only sentiment in politics that has disappeared; it is pragmatism that is fast disappearing as well.