Chris McDaniel softens his insurgency as he switches race

State Sen. Chris McDaniel, R-Ellisville, will run for an open Senate seat.
State Sen. Chris McDaniel, R-Ellisville, will run for an open Senate seat. AP File

Chris McDaniel, R-Ellisville, will run for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Thad Cochran.

He had previously qualified to run against U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker before Cochran said he would retire April 1.

"By announcing early, we are asking Mississippi Republicans to unite around my candidacy and avoid another contentious contest among GOP members that would only improve the Democrats' chances of winning the open seat," McDaniel said. "If we unite the party now and consolidate our resources, we can guarantee Donald Trump will have a fighter who will stand with him."

This seat, as the Jones County Republican noted in his release announcing the switch, is the one he believes he deserves. He has said he would have defeated Cochran in 2014 when he won a primary but lost the runoff had Cochran not received crossover votes from Democrats.

He likely will face a crowded field in that general election. That nonpartisan special election will probably include the person Gov. Phil Bryant appoints to replace Cochran when he leaves office. Everyone from Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves to McDaniel to Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann has been floated as possibilities. And it will include Jackson attorney Mike Espy, a former District 1 congressman, former agriculture secretary under former President Bill Clinton.

In the race for the seat held by Wicker, there will be a crowded Democratic Primary and nominal opposition for Wicker in the GOP primary June 5. Democrats running for that seat include Rep. David Baria of Bay St. Louis, Rep. Omeria Scott of Laurel, Howard Sherman of Meridian, Victor G. Maurice Jr. of Pass Christian, Jensen Bohren of Benton and Jerone Garland of Kosciusko. Richard Boyanton of Diamondhead will take on Wicker in the primary.

McDaniel said by coalescing around him, Republicans could avoid the risk of losing the seat, as they did when mainstream Republicans balked at backing Roy Moore after he upset the party’s preferred candidate.

"When you look at how the establishment works to keep conservatives like Mo Brooks from winning a U.S. Senate seat only to lose the seat entirely, you have to conclude that Mitch McConnell and his lieutenants would rather lose a seat to a Democrat than elect a conservative," said McDaniel.

"It's no secret that the Mississippi Republican establishment has been coordinating with Mitch McConnell to do everything in their power to keep me from getting elected to the United States Senate, just as they did with Mo Brooks," said McDaniel. "Mitch McConnell wants to hand-pick our next Senator. I understand why. It's because they know that I won't be answering to them, I'll be answering to the voters of Mississippi and putting Mississippi first."

The special election will be held in conjunction with the Nov. 6 general election.

In McDaniel’s home county, Rickey Cole, the former Democratic chairman and one of the first to recognize McDaniel as a real threat, said he saw nothing that would keep McDaniel from competing in both races.

“I don’t know of any prohibition — one’s special election and one’s a general election,” the Ovett famer said. “That’s my advice to him. Shoot with the big gun. If you lose in June, you can come back in November and lose again.”

But alas, the Secretary of State’s Office says that’s not going to happen. Not that McDaniel gave any hint he’d follow Cole’s advice anyway. There’s this statute:

“No person may qualify as a candidate for more than one (1) office if the election for those offices occurs on the same day. If a person takes the steps necessary to qualify for more than one office, the appropriate executive committee or election commissioner shall determine the last office for which the person qualified and the person shall be considered to be qualified as a candidate for that office only and the person shall be notified of this determination. The provisions of this subsection shall not apply to elections for municipal office.”

Wicker said he’ll proceed with caution until McDaniel officially withdraws.

“Until Senator McDaniel removes his name from the ballot for this race, we have no choice but to continue our campaign as planned,” he said in a statement. “Gayle and I are grateful for the outpouring of support we're receiving from all over the state. We will not take anything for granted and will continue the hard work of once again earning the support of Mississippi voters.”

Paul Hampton: 228-284-7296, @JPaulHampton