OLIVE BRANCH, Mississippi — Et tu, Jeppie?
Former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour’s brother Jeppie Barbour, the father of powerful political operatives Henry and Austin Barbour, endorsed state Sen. Chris McDaniel in the GOP Senate primary over longtime incumbent Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS).
“I am for McDaniel because Congress spends too much money and Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS) is right in the middle of spending and borrowing money,” Jeppie Barbour told Breitbart News in a phone interview on Wednesday.
“I resent my grandchildren having to pay for these politicians to party. I am ready for a change,” he added.
Jeppie’s son Henry Barbour is running the pro-Cochran Super PAC “Mississippi Conservatives,” while his other son Austin Barbour is a senior adviser to Cochran’s campaign. Though Jeppie has a lower profile than his brother and sons, he still bears the family name–and has been a GOP political insider in Mississippi for years.
A McDaniel endorsement from the heart of Barbour’s political empire is one of several signs the GOP Establishment here is awakening to the fact that McDaniel just might pull off his primary challenge of Cochran.
Late Tuesday in Southaven, Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS) told a GOP audience he’ll back whoever wins the GOP nomination–noting that McDaniel might beat Cochran, who Wicker endorsed.
On Wednesday morning, Mississippi GOP chairman Joe Nosef–an acolyte of Haley Barbour’s who has officially stayed neutral but has drawn ire of Tea Partiers who suspect him of backing Cochran–said he’ll endorse and support whoever wins the nomination too, even if it’s McDaniel.
“As I have said repeatedly since this Senate primary began, the main focus of the Mississippi Republican Party is to ensure that our eventual Republican nominee is victorious in November,” Nosef said in an email to Breitbart News. “We are determined to keep this seat in Republican hands and hopefully have a Republican majority in the United States Senate.”
Slate’s Dave Weigel tweeted “#McDanielmentum.” Though he took a major hit when a crazed blogger took a photo of Cochran’s ailing wife at a retirement home, leading to several arrests, there’s a sense here that he’s coming out of the worst part of the episode as the race heads into its final stretch.
“You know there’s nothing they can do about this–they can put attack ads on TV, they can put distractions out there, but it’s your seat,” McDaniel told a crowd of about 50 here early Wednesday afternoon. “It’s always been your seat. They want Washington to control it. They want the insiders to select it. They want back room deals to fortify it. But it’s the people’s seat and we’re awake now.”
The Olive Branch, MS, McDaniel supporters lined a sidewalk on both sides to create an aisle for him to walk to the stage when his bus rolled in. “McDaniel For Senate” signs stuck out of the ground everywhere around the rally outside city hall, and one man even put campaign stickers on his both sides of his big yellow labrador.
Cochran has been campaigning on all that he’s done for Mississippi over the decades, including steering millions of federal government dollars to the state after Hurricae Katrina. His supporters note that given his seniority, Cochran could continue to bring home the bacon as a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee.
“He has worked hard in the state to make sure Mississippi got its fair share,” Haley Barbour told CNN.
McDaniel supporters vehemently reject the argument.
“He’d be able to make a difference if he went in there and made an effort,” Jeppie Barbour said. “And we may send him some help in two years. But their argument about seniority doesn’t hold up when you listen to all of the rumors that Thad’s gonna quit in two years. I’m not much impressed with what ‘seniority’ has done for us anyway.”
McDaniel campaign manager and state Sen. Melanie Sojourner of Natchez, MS, challenged the Cochran camp’s seniority argument during her own speech at Olive Branch’s City Hall.
“As we go forward, the one thing that our opponent’s camp keeps trying to convince you is that we can’t give up his [Cochran’s] seniority,” Sojourner said. “But as a freshman coming in [to the state senate], you guys remember when Gov. Haley Barbour led the eminent domain charge to take your private property. Chris led that fight. They beat him [Barbour] on the floor, then he vetoed it. It came back and they had him [Barbour] beat again, but they purchased a few block grants overnight and the veto prevailed. Chris said ‘I’m sorry, this is not what the people want. We’re going to fight you.’ We ended up with a referendum on the ballot a few years ago–you guys remember that. The people of this state spoke by over 80 percent. He [McDaniel] led the charge, as a freshman.”
Jeppie Barbour said his sons and brother “are not happy about” his support of McDaniel, “but I’m right.”
“I think if Chris wins, there will be a parade [of GOP support behind him],” Barbour said. “I think the thing that makes a difference to me is his attitude about spending is different [than Cochran’s]. I just know we need a man in Washington who will not throw our money away.”
The Jeppie Barbour endorsement comes as former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin taped a radio ad for McDaniel, airing statewide. The Club For Growth also made more television and radio ad buys in Mississippi, something that’s happening all while Cochran has misstepped with local and national media. Cochran went to extraordinary lengths–pulling a “bait-and-switch” with two different vehicles–to avoid a CNN interview and is thus far declining to sit down with the Jackson Clarion-Ledger for an editorial board interview.
“He’s been running away from Mississippi voters for years,” McDaniel responded to Cochran’s media problems in a brief interview with Breitbart News in Olive Branch. “He owes us a debate. He owes the people of Mississippi answers to questions about his record. What he should be doing is talking to those cameras not running from them.”
Jeppie Barbour added that while this campaign “is plenty bitter, we’ve had worse,” and he pinned the source of the negativity on Cochran.
“I think the Cochran camp took a poll and they realized they had to do something–and now we’ve got the Clarion-Ledger carrying water for him,” Barbour said, noting however that “by now, everybody [on both sides] is bitter.”
The Cochran campaign is continuing to utilize the arrest of blogger Clayton Kelly and three Tea Party activists over the alleged photographing of Cochran’s bedridden wife Rose Cochran. Cochran’s campaign is out with new advertisements tying the issue to McDaniel.
Madison County District Attorney Michael Guest told a reporter last week that he does not believe anyone in McDaniel’s campaign was involved in the incident. Tea Party leader John Mary, who was arrested and has been described by Guest as at the center of a “conspiracy” to take the photo of Rose Cochran, worked at a radio station McDaniel had also worked at. When McDaniel’s campaign learned about a video featuring a photo of Rose Cochran in her residence, Sojourner told aides if anyone had been involved they would be fired, according to an email reviewed by Breitbart News.
While some on Cochran’s team have stated they’ll endorse McDaniel if he wins, Jeppie Barbour’s not having any of that the other way around. “I will never vote for Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS) again,” he said. “After 50 years wasted helping build the Republican Party, I’ll never do anything for the Party again until they get their ducks in a row. I don’t like the way it’s going and I’m not going to kiss and make up.”