The Tea Party Patriots Citizens Fund is offering to host a debate between Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS) and his primary challenger state Sen. Chris McDaniel now that McDaniel has topped Cochran in Tuesday’s vote count forcing a runoff.
“What the Republican primary voters of Mississippi need is a debate between Thad Cochran and Chris McDaniel,” TPPCF Chairman Jenny Beth Martin said in a statement.
Martin points to the statement made late Tuesday evening by the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) executive director Rob Collins about the Mississippi race, where he called for a “vigorous debate” should there be a runoff, as evidence everybody thinks Cochran needs to debate with McDaniel.
“Should Mississippi go to a runoff, we will expect a vigorous debate about the future of our country over the next three weeks and we will continue to fully support Thad Cochran,” Collins said in a statement. “We look forward to him emerging victorious in the runoff.”
Martin thanked Collins for calling for a debate–one that Cochran’s been avoiding until now. “Luckily for them, last night’s statement by NRSC Executive Director Rob Collins – in which he declared that he and his colleagues were looking forward to a ‘vigorous debate about the future of our country’ – makes clear that Establishment Republicans, too, believe a one-on-one debate is a good idea,” Martin said. “Consequently, TPPCF is hereby offering to host a debate between Thad Cochran and Chris McDaniel.”
Martin said that the election results Tuesday night are an indication Mississippi is tired of Cochran, and wants bold new conservative leadership from McDaniel.
“Last night’s results in the contest for the GOP nomination for the U.S. Senate makes three things clear,” Martin said. “First, Chris McDaniel won more votes than did Thad Cochran. Second, a majority of GOP primary voters cast votes against Thad Cochran. And third, now more than ever, Thad Cochran owes it to his constituents to make his case for another term the old-fashioned way – in a debate against his challenger, Chris McDaniel.”
Martin said that because Collins of the NRSC has also called for a “vigorous debate,” for once the Tea Party and GOP establishment are on the same page. “It’s rare that we see eye to eye with the Establishment,” Martin said. “Here, though, we couldn’t agree more. We’re thrilled that they’ve come around, and agree that Mississippi’s GOP primary voters would be well served by seeing a debate between Thad Cochran and Chris McDaniel.”
NRSC spokesman Brad Dayspring did not reply to a request for comment in response to Collins’ comments about whether he was speaking about an actual debate between the candidates, or just offering a turn of phrase.
Cochran has repeatedly, throughout the course of the campaign, refused to debate McDaniel–and has come under criticism for the sometimes awkward explanations he has provided for why he won’t participate in one.
Initially, he and his campaign would not respond when asked why they won’t debate. In late April, Cochran told the Associated Press he won’t debate McDaniel because “he’s trying to make me look bad.” In mid-May, Cochran spokesman Jordan Russell told reporters–while appearing in Cochran’s place at a press conference that McDaniel had on the Mississippi State Capitol steps in Jackson–that Cochran won’t debate because McDaniel, in his words, is a “liar.”
“Why would we put Sen. Cochran on stage with a liar?” Russell said then. “We’re just not going to do that. We’re not going to dignify that.”
“Those are really strong words,” McDaniel said after returning to the stage to rebut Russell that day. “Sen. Cochran is supposed to be a 42-year incumbent who’s a gentleman. I’m shocked that his staff would behave like that. I will say this: It’s a shame that he has to send his staffer down here to debate me. He should be here, talking to me and making those allegations if necessary.”
Cochran’s fourth explanation was that debating isn’t really part of a Senate campaign.
“I’m not running to be a member of the debate team,” he told a local television outlet about the same time that the Washington Post ran a story quoting him accidentally praising Obamacare.
“This is not a debating society,” Cochran added in a separate interview.
Cochran spokesman Jordan Russell did not reply to a request for comment on whether Cochran will participate in a debate during the three-week runoff.
This new call for a debate comes as American Crossroads, a powerful GOP establishment group led by Karl Rove, has said it will not help Cochran in the runoff. Crossroads did not help Cochran in the general election but Politico writes that this refusal to help Cochran “deprives establishment Republicans of a possible avenue of financial support for Cochran.”