JACKSON, Mississippi–Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS) made his last pitch to voters early Monday afternoon at a campaign rally with some of his most influential supporters by his side, telling an audience of 250 here that his reelection could be “Mississippi’s moment.”
“Today is about Mississippi’s tomorrow,” Cochran said, reading from a printed speech on the podium in front of him while Rep. Gregg Harper (R-MS) peered over his shoulder, seemingly reading along. “It is about what all of us can do for Mississippi. We’ve come a long in Mississippi and with a Republican majority together we can make this Mississippi’s moment.”
Days after accidentally telling veteran Washington Post reporter that Obamacare was an “important effort by the federal government,” Cochran made a point of throwing out some red meat to the Republican crowd.
“President Obama has taken us down some wrong paths,” Cochran, a 42-year veteran of Washington, said. “Starting tomorrow, we can get America back on the right path. That starts with repealing Obamacare. The best way to really change Washington is to elect a Republican majority in November and with your help we can all make that happen.”
Cochran spoke briefly, for about four minutes.
Polls show Cochran is neck-and-neck with Mississippi state senator Chris McDaniel, who has challenged Cochran, an old-school appropriator, from the right.
The event was the first time in the race that Cochran’s campaign publicly announced more than a full day in advance–with Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves inviting supporters to it as early as midday Saturday.
Capitalizing on the advanced notice, McDaniel’s cousin, Billy Jack McDaniel, attended the event and confronted a Cochran supporter about what he considered a misleading attack on McDaniel.
There were also some logistical issues. Before the senator arrived on his campaign bus, organizers were openly discussing in front the large contingent of reporters present how they would move the crowd in around the seats so they could make it look more people were there. State Auditor Stacey Pickering–who served as the emcee of the event–actually directed rally-goers to hold up their Cochran campaign signs at a very specific time together so they could take pictures for social media.
Also, some of the testimonials by Cochran’s supporters seemed to highlight McDaniel’s case that it’s time for someone new to represent the state.
Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant, for example, compared replacing Cochran to an NFL team getting rid of quarterback Peyton Manning because he’s old. “That’s sort of like cutting Peyton Manning, you know, because he’s been playing football too long,” Bryant said, to laughter. “He just ain’t what he used to be. I’ll tell you what–there’s a lot of teams that would like to have him, and there’s a lot of states that would like to have Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS) as their United States Senator.”
Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS), who campaigned with Cochran Saturday, was listed by event organizers that he would appear at the rally but flew back to Washington, D.C. for a non-controversial vote.
The event also featured a moment of drama when McDaniel’s cousin, Billy Jack McDaniel, appeared and confronted Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves over attacks from a super PAC supporting Cochran that McDaniel is a “trial lawyer.”
Chris McDaniel represented Billy Jack McDaniel in a 2006 lawsuit against an oil company over a workplace accident. Working on an oil rig in Nacogdoches, Texas a piece of equipment malfunctioned and Billy Jack ended up with more than 95 percent of his body covered in burns, he said.
“I was given a 126 percent chance to die. There was no rate of survival at all. By just the grace of God, my eyes were fine and my lungs were fine. But when Chris McDaniel came to my hospital in Shreveport, Louisiana, he did not come as a lawyer. He came as my first cousin,” Billy Jack McDaniel said.
Afterwards, Chris McDaniel became lead attorney for Billy Jack McDaniel’s years-long battle for a settlement from the oil company because of the tragedy. Billy Jack says his case is the only one where Chris McDaniel actually represented an individual as a lead plaintiff lawyer.
In January, the pro-Cochran Super PAC Mississippi Conservatives–run by former Gov. Haley Barbour’s nephew Henry Barbour–launched a TV ad that first made the accusation that Chris McDaniel is a “trial lawyer” and that he and his client made $26 million off one case. The U.S. Chamber has also included a reference to McDaniel as a “trial lawyer.”
“On the TV advertisement it says: ‘Chris McDaniel, Personal Injury Trial Lawyer’ won $25 million on one case. When you start Googling it, I’m the only case that pops up. So by simple affiliation–even though the amount’s not true, and even though the other stuff’s not true–this is attached to my family like a leech,” Billy Jack McDaniel said.
McDaniel’s law firm represented personal injury clients and sometimes won big, multimillion dollar verdicts, but McDaniel’s campaign has said that he himself “almost exclusively” represented companies against “frivolous lawsuits.”
“I came out here to see if my friends–who I consider friends–Phil Bryant and Tate Reeves and [MS Secretary of State] Delbert Hosemann, to just remind them that I am the only one Chris has ever been lead attorney for on a personal injury case,” Billy Jack McDaniel told Breitbart News. “Unfortunately, I was only able to talk to one of them. Tate Reeves knew me, shook my hand and said ‘hey how you doing?’ and then you could see it. He was like ‘Oh my goodness.'”
“What are you doing here?” Reeves asked Billy Jack McDaniel, McDaniel said in an interview.
“I’m just trying to pull the blanket of safety back over my family with this $25 million accusation that’s just not affiliated with my family,” McDaniel told him in response.
“He knew exactly what I was talking about, and he tried to get out of the conversation immediately,” McDaniel said. “The truth is there. The truth is available. I welcome people–that’s why I’m in Mississippi. I came to Mississippi from my mountain in North Carolina to tell the truth.”