A statewide Mississippi Tea Party group called Monday for the resignation of state GOP chairman Joe Nosef over negative comments he recently made about state senator Chris McDaniel, who is challenging Sen. Thad Cochran in the GOP primary there.
The resignation call from the Mississippi Tea Party, distributed to press by the group’s president Laura Van Overschelde, is the latest escalation in an increasingly bitter primary fight in Mississippi, where the Cochran campaign’s recent attacks on McDaniel have set off a simmering racial debate.
In response, Nosef said he had stayed neutral in the primary and enjoyed a good relationship with many tea party activists in Mississippi.
In the remarks in question by Nosef, the GOP chairman demanded McDaniel explain why he was listed on a flyer for a pro-Second Amendment event that included a Confederate memorabilia store whose owner has advocated for racial segregation.
However, McDaniel’s campaign said he wasn’t at the rally and never said he would attend. No evidence has emerged that he did attend or have anything to do with the rally.
“I think he should clear it up as fast as he can,” Nosef told NBC News’ Kasie Hunt. “Running for the United States Senate is a very important thing and as a party we need to always be careful and focused and serious about what our views are and what our interests are. And if Sen. McDaniel thinks that there’s more to tell, to explain it, my thought as the party chairman would be, the sooner the better.”
Nosef added in his quotes to NBC News that he thinks “no” white nationalist rhetoric should be in the GOP. “Absolutely not,” he said.
Nosef also suggested in that interview that McDaniel might not be able to win the senate seat in the general election in one of the most Republican states in the nation.
“I want the strongest Republican candidate nominee in order to win the election in November,” Nosef said. “And if there is any information that some voter might find negative, certainly I hope we deal with all of that in our primary and not when it’s too late.”
MSNBC host Chris Matthews later picked up the comments and spoke at length about the issue on his show, praising Nosef and ripping McDaniel.
According to the McDaniel campaign, Nosef did not check with the McDaniel or the campaign to inquire if there was any merit to the story before telling a national reporter he needed to quickly address the accusation.
In a followup interview on Mississippi’s Paul Gallo radio program where he backed down slightly from his original criticism, Nosef continued suggesting that McDaniel could be like Todd Akin, Richard Mourdock, Sharon Angle or Christine O’Donnell.
“We’ve had this phenomenon over the past couple of election cycles where but for a couple of Republican failures in some states, we would have taken the United States Senate,” Nosef said on that program. “We wouldn’t have these problems like we’re talking about now like Obamacare. We would at least have the first step toward actually repealing it. One of my concerns–and it’s been my concern from the very beginning–is that we had–I mean look primaries are always going to get dirty, and there’s nothing you can do about that except it’s one of those problems to be managed and not solved.”
During that interview, however, Nosef blamed the liberal media for his remarks to NBC News’ Kasie Hunt, arguing that him declining to appear on MSNBC’s Hardball with Chris Matthews on the matter is proof he did not mean to stir up trouble. But Matthews just read his comments to Hunt on live television, praising him for standing up against such matters.
In addition to calling for Nosef’s resignation, the Mississippi Tea Party called on him to rescind and apologize for his comments on Gallo’s radio program.
“It is inappropriate for Nosef to make such claims given his role as Chairman of the MS GOP,” the group said in its press release. “Accordingly, Joe Nosef should resign from his position as Chairman of the MS GOP effective immediately. Mississippi GOP bylaws call for MS GOP leadership to remain neutral during primaries. Nosef’s behavior clearly violates MS GOP bylaws. With or without Nosef, the MS Tea Party strongly suggests the MS GOP observe and obey its own stated principles and admonitions against involvement in primaries.”
McDaniel is closing in on potentially beating 36-year incumbent U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS) in a primary, something that has rattled the GOP establishment infrastructure in Mississippi. Former Gov. Haley Barbour and his Godfather-esque political machine has rallied around Cochran, but McDaniel keeps surging in polls, garnering more national attention, grassroots support on the ground in the state and all the other elements necessary for a successful Tea Party insurgency campaign that has rocked U.S. politics for the last five years.
While Nosef has publicly claimed neutrality in this race, Tea Partiers fear his close ties to Barbour and others in the Mississippi GOP establishment compromise his ability to remain impartial. Nosef boasts in his bio at law firm Watkins & Eager how he once served for two years as chief counsel to Barbour, how he “advised the Governor daily on all issues facing the State’s Chief Executive” before running Barbour’s re-election campaign as his campaign manager. After that, Nosef served as chief of staff for then Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant, who is now the governor of Mississippi.
Responding to the letter, Nosef said “Anyone who has paid close attention to our US senate primary knows that I’ve not only stayed neutral with regard to the candidates but also worked relentlessly against efforts to divide our party. I continue to receive encouragement in this effort to promote unity from our GOP elected officials, voters across the state, members of both campaigns, as well as very active, long-term tea party members. I also appreciate the good people across our state who make up the lifeblood of the tea party and have enjoyed working with them for years. I am grateful for their support. I have a great working relationship with them in all corners of our state and look forward to working together in this year’s campaigns and into the future.”