MADISON, Mississippi — Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant came out in ardent opposition to Common Core education standards on Thursday, a signal of the immense grassroots pressure in the state, as State Sen. Chris McDaniel and incumbent Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS) battle to win the GOP primary runoff on Tuesday.
“I think Common Core is a failed program, and the United States is beginning to realize that,” Bryant said, according to the Jackson Clarion-Ledger. “Governors all across America are realizing states can do it better.”
In late 2013, Bryant issued an executive order that called for state-level, not national, educational standards, but the order did not block the implementation of Common Core. Bryant argued then, according to local news outlets, that Common Core would not mean a federal takeover of educational standards.
This change in position by Bryant–who is campaigning for Cochran’s re-election–comes after neighboring Republican Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal killed Common Core in his state via executive order this week.
Bryant’s shift on Common Core comes as the candidate he’s supporting in the brutal GOP primary–now in a runoff–between McDaniel and Cochran trails by six points, according to the latest poll. Pollster Brad Chism released a new poll on Thursday evening showing McDaniel leading the Bryant-backed Cochran by six points, with McDaniel up 50 percent to Cochran’s 44 percent, while six percent of GOP runoff voters are undecided.
Chism polled 1192 likely GOP primary runoff voters on Tuesday and Wednesday to get these results, with a margin of error of just 2.85 percent–meaning McDaniel’s lead is a few points higher than that margin.
In a brief interview at a campaign rally he held with former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum–the 2012 GOP presidential primary winner in Mississippi–McDaniel told Breitbart News he’s excited Bryant is stepping up to the plate to fight Common Core, however late Bryant is to the battle.
“I was hoping that Gov. Bryant would lead that charge, because Common Core is a failed program,” McDaniel said. “It has to be stopped. From a number of areas, it’s just bad policy.”
“I think it really shows that grassroots campaigns that focus on what’s really going on and the truth can have an impact,” Santorum added about Bryant’s turnaround on Common Core in an interview. “Sometimes it takes a little while to reach the top, but it’s been a great effort on the parts of parents who care about keeping control of education locally to finally get ahold of some Republican politicians who sort of forgot what they believed in.”
State Senators working with McDaniel’s campaign also say they’re excited Bryant has come to the table to fight alongside them to get rid of Common Core.
State Sen. Angela Hill, a conservative who’s working to help elect McDaniel to the U.S. Senate, told Breitbart News that, while she’s always thought “Common Core was a ‘failed program’ from the start because of how it was hatched,” she’s glad the governor is now on board with Tea Party efforts to axe it.
“Any time you have the federal government handing out incentives to the states to get on a program, you better watch out,” Hill said in an interview at the Santorum rally.
Hill added that “we certainly hope so” when asked if Mississippi is next to kill Common Core. “The will of the people should take precedence over any type of corporate interest,” she said. “The people know what they want. They know what their children are getting in school and they don’t like it.”
“I’m just glad that our governor is coming on board,” state Sen. Tony Smith added. “We’ve worked real hard to try to bring this to light. Hopefully, this session–if not sooner–we’ll get it repealed in the state of Mississippi.”
Smith said he hopes Mississippi’s Bryant joins Louisiana’s Jindal in stamping out the program. “I would think with us being the most conservative state in the union, we should have been first [to kill Common Core],” Smith said. “We’ve got 10 senators who worked really hard last session and we weren’t able to get any bill out of committee. So this year, I’m hoping, with the groundswell across the country, that our leadership will allow us to at least get the bills out of committee so we can have a debate and a vote on it.”
State Sen. Michael Watson said he’s been filling Bryant in “every step of the way,” as conservatives like him have fought against Common Core “for well over a year now” and called the growing grassroots opposition to the program a “groundswell.”
“I think what you’re seeing is people are starting to wake up and listen to the ground level,” Watson said in an interview with the McDaniel campaign bus a few feet away:
People are mad. Parents, teachers, even administrators to a certain degree, are mad. And the elected officials are finally starting to pay attention, I hope and I think. I think what you’ll see is when we get through this election, Gov. Bryant’s going to be in our corner fighting against Common Core. I’m excited about that. Obviously, Sen. Hill, myself, Sen. McDaniel, several of us, have taken the lead on that.
Leading Tea Partiers in Mississippi aren’t shy about warning Bryant they won’t let him off the hook for backing Cochran and supporting Common Core up until now. In a series of interviews on Thursday, many state conservative leaders openly warned Bryant–who’s nickname is ironically the “nation’s first Tea Party governor”–that he will not be spared from the grassroots’ wrath if he doesn’t stand with the people over special interests.
“I hope he is really getting worried about his electoral possibilities,” Laura Van Overschelde, the statewide Mississippi Tea Party president, told Breitbart News at a campaign rally here for McDaniel on Thursday evening. “One of the things he’ll talk about is the ‘silk stocking’ wing of the Republican Party. When he’s referring to that, he’s talking about the Haley Barbour machine because they have the money. The other part of the Republican party is the grassroots base–and that base has been upset. I’m hoping that he hears footsteps coming.”
Kevin Broughton of the Tea Party Patriots Citizens Fund (TPPCF) told Breitbart News he’s glad Bryant has seen the light on Common Core but thinks the governor needs to drop his support for Cochran fast. “I think it’s good that Gov. Bryant has had a ‘Road to Damascus’ conversion,” Broughton said. “Maybe he’ll stop defending the indefensible with the establishment party like he has. He’s still all in for Thad Cochran, who as I understand it supports Common Core. You got to at least give him credit for at least seeing the light, even if he’s leading from behind Bobby Jindal out front.”
Hill is known in Tea Party circles statewide as the Common Core guru. She’s been touring the state since June 2013, meeting with anybody who will listen–parents, teachers, administrators, grandparents, activists and more–explaining the facts of Common Core to them. She and other state senators like Michael Watson, Tony Smith, McDaniel, and McDaniel’s campaign manager Melanie Sojourner, among others, have comprised a powerful grassroots-boosted Tea Party wing of the Mississippi state Senate. That wing has propelled McDaniel into becoming a credible U.S. Senate candidate, and may help propel challengers against people like Bryant in the future, if he doesn’t work with–instead of against–the grassroots.
“My worry is that he [Bryant] hasn’t figured that out yet–whether he wants to be re-elected for a second term as governor,” Van Overschelde told Breitbart News. “I’m wondering whether the groundswell that has amassed for Chris McDaniel and his conservative values, I’m wondering if he [Bryant] will ever be able to convince enough of the electorate, who supported him overwhelmingly in 2011–are they really going to be able to bite that bullet? I don’t think so. It could be really politically bad for him.”
When asked if Bryant is still salvageable from the grassroots perspective, Van Overschelde said, “he’s going to have a lot of work to do.”
“He’s tone deaf,” she said. “We had extensive conversations with him about the army we were amassing to support Chris McDaniel. We told him about it not very long after Sen. Cochran announced that he was going to run again. We told him this was going to be a grassroots thing. We’re going to get the people in Mississippi to look at what’s going on here. The people are not happy with a lot of the state things that have happened. It’s coming. You can bet on it. It’s going to be a hard road to hoe to convince enough people that they can believe in you when you’ve been backing Cochran all that time.”