What Conservatives Mean When They Talk About “Race-Baiting” in Mississippi

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
July 7 2014 2:05 PM

What Conservatives Mean When They Talk About “Race-Baiting” in Mississippi

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Chris McDaniel's campaign for Senate has unnaturally prolonged life, too

Photo by Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images

The Mississippi Senate race, like some Peter Jackson movie from out of hell, refuses to settle on an ending. Over the weekend, state Sen. Chris McDaniel confirmed that he was readying a lawsuit of some kind to challenge the certified election results. The campaign has not yet announced whether anyone has reported a clear incident of fraud, but it continues to offer $1,000 to the first 15 people who do. And McDaniel's allies continue to explain why the election was so unjust, rallying over the weekend to promote the cause and thank conservative reporter Charles Johnson for his coverage.

The ally getting the most attention is Sen. Melanie Sojourner, McDaniel's campaign manager. Her public Facebook page has turned into a graffiti wall of campaign grievances, and her July 4 post has startled liberals for how she defines "race-baiting." If you actually want to understand the mindset keeping McDaniel in the race, though, it's worth reading her.

Where I'm from, in rural Mississippi, I grew up knowing lots a God-fearing, hard-working, independent conservative minded African-American family's [sic]. On the McDaniel Campaign we had two young men from just such family's [sic] on our staff.
This is not what the Cochran campaign did. They did not reach out to African-American Democrats based on sharing a vision of conservative principles. No they abandon those beliefs, told out right lies and made vicious attacks against one of Mississippi's most decorated conservative Republican champions and to make it worse used race baiting tactics to take advantage of African-American voters all for the sake of holding onto a seat to feed their money grubbing, greedy, selfish egos.
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Progressive media has described McDaniel's supporters—the ones who crashed last week's Thad Cochran press call, at least—as engaging in "racism" or making "racially tinged" comments. But that's not what they're trying to do. They're arguing, factually, that Cochran's campaign and an outside PAC appealed to black voters by pointing out what he'd done for them (in fiscal terms) and by accusing "the Tea Party" of trying to block their votes. Oh, sure, the Tea Party has spent the postgame trying to literally cancel out the votes of black Democrats, but that's not the point.

The Tea Party, a movement that helped elect Allen West to Congress and helped make Herman Cain—Herman Cain!—a presidential contender, and wants to elect Mia Love to Congress in Utah, believes that conservatives can win black votes while remaining conservative. When West talks about escaping "the liberal plantation," that's what he means. The "racist" party is the one that wins black votes by promising largesse, and the colorblind party aims to win them by talking free markets and social values.

Cochran's allies enjoyed a brief but well-covered honeymoon after the senator won. This election, they argued, proved that Republicans could win black votes by reaching out to black voters. Today, they cancel the demographic apocalypse! 

A problem arose. Black groups, led by Mississippi's NAACP, capitalized on the election by asking Cochran to work with them on their current priorities. Cochran could, for example, sponsor a fix to the Voting Rights Act. Reporters asked if the senator would do so. They got back some word salad, and no committment. 

The Tea Party is absolutely confident of how it wants to win black voters. The "establishment" isn't. Unless we start seeing, say, Ed Gillespie or Thom Tillis reaching out to Southern blacks by promising to restore the Voting Rights Act, we can safely surmise that the Cochran Model was a one-time thing.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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