HATTIESBURG, Mississippi — Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS) provided a new explanation for his refusal to debate his primary challenger that is sure to give fodder to critics who say that after six terms he feels entitled to his seat.
“This is not a debating society,” Cochran said explaining his decision not to debate McDaniel. “This is a race for the United States Senate.”
Cochran went on to say the voters of Mississippi will decide who wins. “The people are going to decide who wins the race,” he said. “Nothing that I can say is going to make much of a difference. It’s too late in the campaign. Most everyone has made up their minds.”
“I’m looking forward to celebrating a victory on election night,” Cochran added.
This remarks are the latest Cochran has provided regarding why he won’t debate McDaniel. First, he and his campaign would not respond when asked why they won’t debate. Second, in late April, Cochran told the Associated Press he won’t debate McDaniel because “he’s trying to make me look bad.” Third, 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. “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 has faced harsh criticism throughout Mississippi for his refusal to debate. The Jackson Clarion-Ledger, for instance, calls the decision “unbecoming” of a U.S. Senator.
Over the past few weeks, the Cochran campaign has worked to capitalize on the blogger scandal–which has resulted in four arrests, of the blogger and three conservative activists. The District Attorney involved, while saying no one has been cleared, said he does not believe anyone from the McDaniel campaign was involved in the matter. On Thursday, Clarion-Ledger reporter Sam Hall said on statewide radio that nobody else is expected to be arrested in the matter.
McDaniel may be through the worst of the political impact of the scandal, and he has dollars pouring in to help him from conservative groups. The race is neck-and-neck, and McDaniel has benefited from some key endorsements–like that of Rick Santorum, who won Mississippi’s GOP presidential primary in 2012, and of Jeppie Barbour, the brother of former Gov. Haley Barbour. In the final days, McDaniel’s got the momentum heading into election day.
“This isn’t a debating society” is the latest unfortunate moment for Cochran on the campaign trail. He’s twice this year said he doesn’t know much about the Tea Party movement, has said he’s okay with at least some national debt, and praised earmarks hinting he’d support the return of the big spending big government appropriation tool.
CNN’s Dana Bash, whom Cochran snuck away from using a “bait-and-switch” with two separate vehicles, reported that most of this behavior from Cochran is part of a campaign coordinated effort to “avoid unforced errors.”
“This is ‘do no harm’–that is the most important thing for the Cochran campaign,” Bash said. “Allies admit it. That’s why he just isn’t talking to anybody at this point.”