Fox News host and national conservative radio personality Sean Hannity endorsed state Sen. Chris McDaniel over incumbent Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS) Monday, saying the race is “too important” and McDaniel is “too good” a candidate not to.
Noting, “I mostly stay out of primaries,” Hannity explained his support was rooted in distaste for Washington deal making as he indirectly compared McDaniel to Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX).
“It’s very, very frustrating to me,” he said. “It just is. Do we want to change the country for the better? If we want to do that, we need bold, outspoken, dynamic, inspiring leadership–people that are willing to take a stand. Ted Cruz is willing to take a stand. Ted Cruz is fighting the administration. Ted Cruz goes out there and does what every Republican said they’d do on healthcare and he gets trashed by his fellow senators for doing what they themselves promised to do. I don’t understand it. I really don’t.”
“I kind of feel awkward telling people in Mississippi who to vote for, but I’ve been asked, and I’m giving you the answer: People ask me who I would vote for, and I would vote for Sen. Chris McDaniel,” Hannity said. “That’s my answer.”
McDaniel and Cochran represent the latest battleground in the larger clash between the Tea Party and the GOP Establishment. Their contest will be resolved in a runoff election roughly two weeks from now. McDaniel narrowly defeated Cochran in the June 3 primary.
McDaniel, who is leading in two new polls, is generally considered the frontrunner because he won the first round of balloting, brings a youthful vigor to the race that Cochran at 76 lacks, and generally enjoys more enthusiastic support.
The first poll, a Chism Strategies poll, found McDaniel leads Cochran 50.6 percent to 47.6 percent, just inside the poll’s 3.3 percent margin of error. The second poll from the Strategic Journal, according to Politico‘s Morning Score, shows McDaniel with a six-point lead, 52 percent to Cochran’s 46 percent.
Cochran’s campaign, meanwhile, is working to reach out to Mississippi’s Democratic voters, many of whom are eligible to vote in the runoff. In an interview with WAPT television, Cochran said that McDaniel’s campaign beat his in turning out voters on election day–something he plans to counter on June 24.
“I don’t care if you’re from Yazoo City or the Coast, or if you are white or black,” Henry Barbour, the head of pro-Cochran Super PAC Mississippi Conservatives told The New York Times. “We’re going to make certain that everybody knows they have a stake in this, and the state needs somebody to represent the interest of all three million Mississippians.”
When asked by Politico if Cochran would seek non-Republican voters for help in the GOP primary runoff, Cochran supporter state Sen. Lydia Chassaniol hit the tone of the message: “I think that three million Mississippians and everyone who cares about the state ought to take a real hard look at this.”
To Republicans, top Cochran allies are making the case that a McDaniel victory in the primary could put the senate seat in jeopardy in the general election. “I do think if Chris McDaniel is our nominee, the Democrats have a chance,” Henry Barbour said in an appearance on MSNBC this weekend.
“The only way to be certain that Republicans retain the seat is to nominate Senator Cochran,” Rep. Gregg Harper (R-MS), a key Cochran ally, told Breitbart News on Monday through a spokesman. Harper is at the top of the short list of Mississippi politicians who’d be considered for an appointment into Cochran’s seat should Cochran be re-elected and not serve out his full term, a former top staffer of Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS) says.
Cochran’s campaign website and official Twitter account are filled with links to the argument that McDaniel’s being the nominee could cost the GOP the Mississippi Senate seat, and the Senate majority as a whole depending on what else happens nationwide in November.
However, the argument took a major blow Sunday when Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus dismissed it out of hand.
“I don’t think anyone with some minimal level of political sophistication actually believes that Mississippi is going to be somehow coming into play in November,” Priebus said on ABC News’s This Week With George Stephanopoulos this weekend.
The Club For Growth, a conservative group that’s spent millions supporting McDaniel, seized on Priebus’s comments to tout the race as a battle for the future direction of the Republican Party.
“The Republican primary runoff in Mississippi isn’t about control of the Senate, it’s about what kind of Republican we should send to the Senate,” said Chris Chocola, the Club For Growth’s president.
In response, Brad Dayspring, a spokesman for the NRSC, which has been working to help Cochran, said, “Chairman Priebus is right on; a Republican will win the Mississippi Senate race. That Republican will be Thad Cochran.”
The Rothenberg Political Report ranks Mississippi “Safe Republican.” The Cook Political report rates the state “Likely Republican” at R+9.
Nonetheless, Cochran’s campaign points to comments Senate Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) made at a fundraiser for Alison Lundergan Grimes, the Democratic challenger to Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY). According to audio obtained by Politico, Reid said that Childers had a chance to win there.
“You watch Mississippi,” Reid said. “Travis Childers, Congressman Childers–I think everyone’s pulling for McDaniel, but it doesn’t matter–I think you will see a big surprise there from Congressman Childers.”
Cochran spokesman Jordan Russell said in a statement that the Reid comments “confirm that Democrats are hoping Chris McDaniel wins the runoff” so the Democrats have a chance in November.
However, The New York Times‘s Nate Cohn conducted an analysis of the actual statistics and numbers of the race and concluded that the “Democrats Shouldn’t Dream In Mississippi.” After walking through his analysis, Cohn argued that even the long-shot of a tiny Republican turnout doesn’t give Childers a chance in November.
“Mr. Childers would probably need a historic drop-off in Republican turnout, allowing black voters to rise to a larger share of the electorate than in 2012,” Cohn wrote. “Then Mr. Childers would need to run a flawless campaign and cross his fingers. Because even then he might not have a pathway to victory.”