Why Mississippi Republicans Freaked Out Over One Dude at a Gun Show

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
April 3 2014 6:43 PM

Why Mississippi Republicans Freaked Out Over One Dude at a Gun Show

On Wednesday afternoon the conservative blog Y'all Politics posted a kind of scoop. Chris McDaniel, the Republican challenger who has posed a serious threat to Sen. Thad Cochran all year, was scheduled to speak at Firearm Freedom Day in (wait for it) Guntown, Miss. Two other Republican legislators, Melanie Sojourner and (wait for it again) Bubba Carpenter, would be there too. But among the vendors was a group called Pace Confederate Depot. This might not have raised hackles with the rest of the press—not in a state whose flag incorporates the stars and bars—but blogger Alan Lange, a donor to Cochran, did some homework.

Based in Baldwyn, Mississippi, Pace Confederate Depot is your home for all things confederate including . . . “White Pride” merchandise. It gets worse.
Brian Pace, lead proprietor of Pace Confederate Depot (as well as the Confederate Patriot Voters United), is a self-avowed “racial preservationist” and has publicly declared interest, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, in creating a separatist “white state”.
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The national press caught on. TPM's Daniel Strauss reported out the story, interviewing Brian Pace, who did not do much spinning. "If you feel like segregation is what you want to do then that's your freedom of association," he said, "that's your constitutional right." (It isn't, but we can move on.) This helped nobody, least of all McDaniel, who quit the event. Pace lacked the sense of the Citizens Militia of Mississippi, which keeps up a website that aggregates terrifying news for gun owners and Christians but opens with a quote from Martin Luther King Jr. (It's a way of getting to the point that "Obama and his fellow political hacks are running roughshod over our Constitution and steadily tearing down the foundations of our way of life that gave America her greatness.")

This made the story a Problem for McDaniel. The state Republican Party, which is backing Cochran, gave a good quote about the insurgent candidate's problems. In doing so it was validating an attack on McDaniel for being on the same bill as a racist vendor at a gun show: a temporary alliance among lefty blogs, MSNBC, and Mississippi Republicans. It's part of an effort to save Cochran, and prevent a possible upset by Democrat Travis Childers, a one-term-and-change congressman who went down in the 2010 wave. A Rasmussen poll gave Cochran a 48–31 lead over Childers and McDaniel a ... 47–35 lead.

A little bit overcautious, isn't it? Yes, Republicans fumbled away a Senate seat in 2012, in a similar circumstance, when state Treasurer Richard Mourdock primaried Sen. Richard Lugar and faced a credible Democrat who'd only run because he thought that might happen. But Mourdock never had a huge lead over the Democrat, Joe Donnelly. Polling in March 2012 put the two of them in a tie; Mourdock never led by more than 5 points, in a state that would also have a competitive gubernatorial race driving turnout.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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