Elections

Chris McDaniel just made Mississippi’s Senate race a lot more interesting

State Sen. Chris McDaniel, R-Ellisville, speaks about one of his amendments during floor debate to the creation of the Asbestos Transparency Trust Act in Senate chambers at the Capitol in Jackson, Miss.. McDaniel, who lost a bitter U.S. Senate race in 2014, says he will "get into a dark place and pray" about whether to run this year.
State Sen. Chris McDaniel, R-Ellisville, speaks about one of his amendments during floor debate to the creation of the Asbestos Transparency Trust Act in Senate chambers at the Capitol in Jackson, Miss.. McDaniel, who lost a bitter U.S. Senate race in 2014, says he will "get into a dark place and pray" about whether to run this year. AP file

Mississippians, voters and nonvoters alike, may need to buckle up for another bruising statewide campaign, a flood of attack ads and arguments over who’s the most conservative among conservatives.

Several national outlets on Monday said it appears state Sen. Chris McDaniel will run against Sen. Roger Wicker in the June 5 Republican primary. McDaniel didn’t return messages but Remember Mississippi PAC, which is his main backer, just pointed to those reports, and said it would be watching it closely.

On Facebook Live on Monday, he said “you can read between the lines” why he invited viewers to come to Ellisville, where he launched his 2014 challenge to Sen. Thad Cochran, for an event at noon at Jones County Junior College at the Home Health Auditorium.

“We are looking forward to the announcement and certainly hope Chris McDaniel challenges Senator Wicker,” said Tomm Barnett, treasurer of the PAC in an email. “Mississippi deserves a constitutional conservative who holds the same values as Mississippians and is a consistent and strong voice for them in Washington, DC. We can’t wait to support a McDaniel run. Bring it on.”

That GOP primary race dominated the media and TV advertising for months in one of the nastiest campaigns in Mississippi history. The vitriol led to a blogger’s burglary of a nursing home, the suicide of a Tea Party stalwart, and whispering campaigns about extra-marital affairs.

“Keep my family and I in your prayers,” he said Monday on Facebook. “Because goodness knows, you know how these things go.”

The Mississippi Coast got a preview in October 2017 of how state Sen. Chris McDaniel's 2018 campaign for Senate would be fought. He spoke at McElroy's in Ocean Springs.

McDaniel was relatively unknown in South Mississippi in 2014 when he ran against Sen. Thad Cochran in what turned out to be a wild and nasty campaign. McDaniel narrowly lost in a runoff after winning with less than 50 percent of the vote in the GOP primary. He challenged the result in a case that ended up before the state Supreme Court, which ruled against him.

Cochran then easily won re-election against former congressman Travis Childers. Democrats have yet to field a candidate with three days left to qualify for the party primary.

Wicker first came to Congress in 1995, when he won the race to replace Rep. Jamie Whitten, who retired after 54 years in the House. Gov. Haley Barbour appointed Wicker to replace Sen. Trent Lott, who retired about a year into his fourth term. He then won election to finish Lott’s term and was re-elected in 2012. He ran the National Republican Senatorial Committee from 2015-17.

McDaniel spent the years since his defeat honing his social media skills and his message, picking fights with liberals on Facebook with posts such as:

“Leave it to liberals. Who else would defend the ‘right’ for a 14-year-old to get an abortion without parental consent, but then demand she be 21 before being allowed to purchase a firearm.”

Last year, it seemed certain he would run either against Wicker or Cochran should the senior senator retire. But Cochran’s aides say he plans to serve the rest of his term. He was a frequenter at Breitbart News and had the support of its leader Steve Bannon, who had left the paper to join the Trump administration.

Bannon was once one of President Donald Trump’s closest advisers but that ended last fall when Bannon abruptly left the White House.

Bannon then promised to have an insurgent candidate running in the Republican primary against sitting GOP senator up for election.

He backed Roy Moore in Alabama, but that renegade Republican who had twice been tossed off the Supreme Court, lost, turning that Senate seat Democratic for the first time in decades.

Since then, Bannon lost the support of his main benefactor, billionaire Rebekah Mercer, and, a few days later, his job leading Breitbart news.

In 2014, McDaniel had about $7 million from PACs for the conservative Club for Growth and Freedom Works. The Club for Growth told CNN it could do it again.

His biggest supporter this year is Remember Mississippi, a PAC set up to back him and named after his post-2014 rallying cry. It’s largest donor is Robert Mercer, Rebekah Mercer’s father, who put up $450,000, almost half the total taken in by the PAC, which had just over $850,000 left at the end of last year.

Paul Hampton: 228-284-7296, @JPaulHampton

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