Meridian Star

Local News

March 30, 2014

Miss. GOP primary may be a horse race

MERIDIAN —     It may be debatable whether Republican voters in Mississippi are as divided politically as is being characterized in coverage of the ongoing U.S. Senate GOP primary race, but what is clear is that the political fight between incumbent Sen. Thad Cochran and Tea Party challenger Chris McDaniel is turning into something of a horse race.

    Cochran was the first Republican in Mississippi to be elected to a statewide post in more than 100 years when he was first elected to the Senate in 1978.

    McDaniel serves in the Mississippi Senate for District 42 in Jones County. In a recent interview with The Meridian Star, McDaniel explained why he believes it is time for a change and why Mississippi voters are ready for it.

    "Right now the Republican party is going through a struggle of trying to find itself. The party that I joined is the party of Ronald Reagan, the party of liberty, the party of constitutional balance and balanced budgets," McDaniel said. "That's not what the party is right now. So we are going to restore it. We are going to reclaim it."

    Establishment Republicans like Cochran, according to McDaniel, have spent too much taxpayers' money bringing home the bacon instead of trying to control spending. The country simply cannot afford to continue down that path, McDaniel said.

    McDaniel said Tea Party supporters believe that Cochran is not a conservative voice in Washington.

    "If the establishment Republicans were as aggressive in fighting the Democrats as they are fighting us, there wouldn't be a need for the Tea Party," McDaniel said. "The Democrats, to their credit, they know how to fight. They are principled fighters. The Republicans haven't been for a while. It's time to bring that back."

    There has been too much compromise, McDaniel said.

    "I'm not going there to reach across the aisle and compromise. That's not the kind of person I am. I'm going there to fight for Mississippi values and Mississippi principles," McDaniel said. "We'll let the Democrats compromise for a change."

    In an interview with Cochran via email, the senator said there is a way to get things done without compromising one's principles.

    "We just passed a new Farm Bill that was very difficult to negotiate and is a good bill, but not a perfect bill," Cochran said. "However, agriculture is Mississippi’s number one industry and I was determined to ensure our agriculture economy was treated fairly by the federal government and I think we accomplished that goal."

    The Farm Bill, according to McDaniel, is another example of government largesse. McDaniel said the reason the Farm Bill is a problem is because it contains two very different bills; Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps, which is about 80 percent of the funding; and farm subsidy programs.

    "They use SNAP benefits to purchase votes for the Farm Bill," McDaniel said. "They use the Farm Bill to purchase votes for SNAP benefits. Those issues are so important they need to be divided into two separate bills and discussed on their merits. Separate the bills; discuss them independently."

    On other issues, McDaniel said he is not for cutting military spending. With regard to Social Security, he said it has to be saved for the "people who have built their whole lives with the assumption that they would receive that money back."

    McDaniel said the U.S. Department of Education is unconstitutional and he believes it should be closed and that money should be distributed among the states. Sacrifices will have to be made in order to get the U.S. back on track financially, he said.

    "People in Mississippi are a part of a larger Republic," McDaniel said. "The Republic is being crushed by debt and deficit spending. The people of Mississippi understand that it is immoral for us to continue spending the way we have been spending."

    Conservatives who want change have to be willing to start at the ballot box, McDaniel said.

    "No one out there, particularly in Mississippi, loves the direction that Congress is going. Likewise they don't like the direction the country is going," McDaniel said. "Yet invariably there are those who want to keep sending the same individuals up there year in and year out. You can't keep sending the same people and expecting different results. The people understand that and that is why they are seeking change."

    A good start, McDaniel said, is to defund the Affordable Care Act, saying some Republican senators fought against it.

    "A son of Mississippi was not on that floor to fight,"McDaniel said. "There's no excuse for that. We're the most conservative state in the republic; we need to lead like we're the most conservative state in the republic."

    Cochran defended his voting record.

    "I have voted against Obamacare more than 100 times, opposed President Obama’s gun control and immigration amnesty policies. I am pleased to have the endorsement from the National Rifle Association (NRA) in this campaign, and I have a 100 percent Pro-Life current rating from the National Right to Life," Cochran said. "I am also very grateful for the endorsement and support from other conservatives including Gov. Phil Bryant and Congressman Gregg Harper."

    Cochran was asked about his recent remarks that he didn't know that much about the Tea Party.

    "I welcome the support of all Mississippians, whether they identify with the Tea Party or not. I think conservatives across Mississippi recognize that right now is a critical time in our nation’s history and we must stand together to fight the liberal policies of President Obama," Cochran said.

    As the June primary nears, Cochran said he isn't focused on the attention that the national media has paid to the election.

    "I’m much more focused on continuing to represent the conservative values of our state and building Mississippi for the future," Cochran said. "I’m working as hard as I can representing our state in the U.S. Senate and at the same time, campaigning across the state to ask people for their support in this election."

    Cochran said he has several major issues of concern.

    "I’m continuing my focus on stopping Obamacare with legislation that I’ve introduced to do that in the U.S. Senate," he said. "I’m also working to reduce federal spending and enacting policies that help create economic growth and job creation. Additionally, I am working to keep our military and national defense presence strong. At a time when some people are talking about cutting our national defense and military bases, we must be vigilant to protect our bases and Mississippi’s military infrastructure."

    Cochran said there is hope that Republicans will gain control of the Senate in November.

    "My position in the U.S. Senate gives me the ability to be an effective voice for Mississippi’s interests and conservative values. There is a strong chance that Republicans can win back the majority in the U.S. Senate in November, and that would allow me to become Appropriations Chairman again," Cochran said. "That means Mississippi is better-positioned to promote the right policies and also to stand in the gap in our fight against the Obama Administration’s liberal policies."

    McDaniel said he believes the support his campaign has garnered has to do with voters wanting change.

    "It's a combination of ideology and timing and the need for change. I happen to like Sen. Cochran. I respect him. He's entitled to our respect. It's a different era and people understand that it's a different era."

    Mississippi Democrats have taken notice of the GOP primary campaigns.

    Rickey Cole, chairman of the Mississippi Democratic Party, said it is in some ways surprising.

    "It is incredible to me that one of the founders of the Mississippi Republican Party finds himself in a race like this but it's nobody's fault but their own because they have created this Tea Party monster out here," Cole said.

    Joe Nosef, chairman of the Mississippi Republican Party, said he isn't convinced that Mississippi Republicans are so divided.

    "I don't really buy the argument that there's a big Tea Party, establishment split, to be honest with you. There may be some in some states but I think in Mississippi, when you're talking about the people who matter, which are the grassroots voters, the people who actually go in and vote and support candidates, these people are on the same page on what conservative principals are and what they believe in," Nosef said. "I think that the Chris McDaniel, Thad Cochran race will be a race where the voters decide between Chris McDaniel and Thad Cochran. I don't think it will be a race that is determined because of a function of some big divide of people."

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