Mississippi Panic Time

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
June 10 2014 6:24 PM

Mississippi Panic Time

(Hello. I'm taking a break from book leave to right two quick posts. I'll disappear again soon.)

Right before the Mississippi primary vote, Politico's Alex Burns wrote a nice, textured piece about how Sen. Thad Cochran was closing out. The senator did not talk about challenger Chris McDaniel unless prompted to. When I asked about a Cochran TV ad that attacked McDaniel supporters for breaking into his wife's nursing home, Cochran assumed that the ad was run by someone else. (It did begin with "I'm Thad Cochran and I approve this message," but memory is a strange and fickle beast.)

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Now, however, Cochran is going at McDaniel with both barrels. Via Brett LoGiurato, he's saying that had Sen. Chris McDaniel been around in 2005, he'd have blocked Katrina aid.

He said he wouldn’t vote for disaster assistance for Mississippi. That is the most outrageous thing I’ve heard from a public official in Mississippi. I can’t believe that he is serious but apparently he is serious. He doesn’t want any federal money to be used to help out Mississippi after a hurricane has struck the Gulf Coast. Katrina. Did he go down there and look to see what happened and how much money was going to be required to restore all of that? I’m the one that got the money appropriated, through the Senate, and others of course in our delegation worked hard to do that and he is indicting that kind of use of power and influence in Washington.

The first part of this is not quite true. McDaniel has never said he would have opposed, full stop, "disaster assistance." The idea that he would, which was splattered over the newspapers and airwaves by team Cochran, comes from this piece.

McDaniel repeatedly ducked questions about whether he would have voted for a Hurricane Katrina relief bill of urgent importance to Mississippi that McDaniel also described as laden with pork. “I would have to see the details of it. I really would,” McDaniel said. “That’s not an easy vote to cast.”
Pressed on the 2005 Katrina bill specifically, he conceded: “I probably would have supported it, but I don’t know enough about it. That’s just it.” McDaniel added that “some of the money [in the Katrina bill] was misspent,” arguing that when it comes to government spending: “It’s one thing to provide immediate storm relief and to protect people’s lives and property, it’s quite another to benefit campaign supporters.” 

That's why the second part of Cochran's indictment is important. It's not that McDaniel is against aid, so much as he's going to vote the way conservatives want him to vote. Cochran simply does not care about political pressure groups. McDaniel, he fears/seethes, cares so much that he would eschew the work of bringing money home.

The problem? This just isn't particularly compelling for a conservative voter. Mississippi gets two senators, after all, and Sen. Roger Wicker will still be around, young (62!) and relief money-grubbing. Texas and Kentucky have happy-ish marriages between reliable right-wing table-pounders (Cruz, Paul) and reliable money-getters (Cornyn, McConnell). Why not them?

Meanwhile, via the Clarion-Ledger, Cochran is now working more aggressively to tie McDaniel to his misadventuring, courthouse-getting-locked-in supporters.

 

Maybe that's a more fruitful strategy than "but think about the aid dollars you'll lose" one. Cochran had to really scrap it out on the Gulf Coast during the primary, and when the runoff comes in two weeks, former Rep. Gene Taylor will no longer be running for the House, possibly depressing crossover voter turnout. (Taylor, a Democrat for decades, became a Republican to run for his old seat.)

David Weigel is a former Slate political reporter. 

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