Mississippi Republican Sen. Thad Chochran is in trouble, and the GOP establishment is pulling out all the stops to save him.
A pro-Cochran super PAC associated with former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour is already on the airwaves to define upstart conservative state Senator and challenger Chris McDaniel five months before the primary.
And even Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant, who on Sunday endorsed Cochran, criticized the group on Monday.
“I’m disappointed in that – it’s just not something that’s necessary,” Bryant said on Monday, according to the Clarion-Ledger. “I would urge them to stop the Republican-on-Republican attack. I believe it was Ronald Reagan who talked about the 11th commandment – thou shalt not speak ill of a fellow Republican.”
The New York Times reported that now-lobbyist Barbour, who is said to have purchased Newt Gingrich’s megaphone before the GOP’s historic “Contract with America” election in 1994, will help raise money for the pro-Cochran “Mississippi Conservatives” super PAC. The super PAC on Friday started to run an ad, which will run statewide for three weeks, that attempts to define McDaniel as someone who is not as conservative on Common Core, deficit spending, and tort reform as he may claim. Those three areas coincidentally may be Cochran’s biggest weaknesses as he tries to ward off a challenge from McDaniel, who has gotten the support prominent conservative organizations, in what will be a low-turnout primary.
Henry Barbour, Haley’s nephew who is advising the super PAC, conceded to the Times that Cochran is vulnerable in this political climate and that his nomination would not be a “cakewalk.” Cochran is a six-term senator whom Time magazine described as a “seasoned appropriator” who is a “spitting image of the Republican establishment” running in a deeply anti-establishment and anti-Washington climate.
McDaniel and Haley Barbour feuded when Haley was governor. McDaniel sponsored a bill to limit the state’s ability to take away private property to transfer it to other private owners, but Barbour vetoed the bill. McDaniel was narrowly defeated in his quest to override the veto.
Noel Fritsch, a spokesman for McDaniel, told Breitbart News that the “dishonest super PAC attack is further evidence that D.C. insiders like Haley Barbour and Karl Rove are desperate to retain any semblance of control by keeping their guy in office spending taxpayer money, voting for gun control, funding Obamacare, and helping Obama’s federal takeover of Mississippi’s education.”
The ad, titled, “whoever,” accuses McDaniel of being “whoever he needs to be” to get elected and implies that he may support Common Core, more deficit spending and be against tort reform even though those claims do not square with McDaniel’s record in Mississippi’s state Senate.
Fritsch, the McDaniel spokesman, said that Cochran’s “allies are clearly desperate attempt to cover up Sen. Cochran’s 35-year record of supporting liberal policies,” which included taxpayer-funded abortions.
“The truth is Senator McDaniel has fought for tort reform and against Common Core in the legislature, while Sen. Cochran has voted with Democrats on nearly every issue from spending, to gun control, to funding Obamacare,” he said.
McDaniel has cast votes in the state Senate for tort reform, including for bills aimed at cracking down on frivolous lawsuits, providing liability protection for businesses, and requiring a “cert of merit” and immunity in tort claims to those in the medical profession.
Cochran, a former trial lawyer, has raised nearly $500,000 from lawyers and law firms, which represent his second largest segment of donors. And in the U.S. Senate, Cochran has voted on at least 11 occasions to raise the debt ceiling by at least $7.7 trillion over the past 24 years. He has voted to lift the $8 billion annual liability cap for future lawsuits against the tobacco industry and with Democrats to weaken product liability reform. Cochran has also voted against putting caps on the liability of businesses from supposed Y2K-related computer problems and was one of eight Republicans to join Democrats in voting against capping plaintiff attorney’s fees in tobacco litigation suits at $4,000 an hour.
While Cochran voted for No Child Left Behind, which conservatives revolted against during George W. Bush’s administration, and asked President Barack Obama for “Race to the Top” funds that would bind Mississippi to implement some aspects of Common Core, McDaniel has been an advocate against Common Core in the Mississippi Senate. McDaniel has co-sponsored bills to halt the implementation of Common Core and allow parents of public school parents to opt out of various–and mandatory–electronic data tracking systems. And as the Associated Press noted, McDaniel has led the “Senate’s ultra-conservative faction” in “actively promoting opposition” to Common Core by “appearing at local school board meetings and in other forums” to argue against a “one-size-fits-all national testing experiment.”
Cochran allies may be jittery because McDaniel, due to his conservative record, has received endorsements from the Club for Growth, the Senate Conservatives Fund, Heritage Action, and Freedomworks. And more could be on the way. In announcing the creation of its new super PAC on Monday, the Tea Party Patriots said the group would be “be expanding the mission into the Mississippi, Nebraska, Louisiana, Arkansas and North Carolina Senate races shortly.” And last October, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, whom former South Carolina Gov. and Heritage Foundation President Jim DeMint said had the most influence in Republican primaries, said that she would be looking closely at the Mississippi GOP Senate primary.