BILOXI, Mississippi — When Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS) goes on the record with reporters, it always seems to bring a surprise or two.
This time, in an interview with veteran Washington Post reporter Dan Balz at a campaign stop, Cochran accidentally called Obamacare “an example of an important effort by the federal government to help make health care available, accessible and affordable.”
“I’m glad to be involved in that effort,” Cochran added. According to Balz, Cochran was asked how he evaluated the state of play over the health care law. But afterward, a Cochran adviser phoned Balz to claim it was a mixup.
“A short time later, a Cochran adviser called to say there was disagreement aboard Cochran’s bus about whether the health question had been about Obamacare or the problems at the Veterans Administration,” Balz wrote. “He said Cochran was among those on the bus who thought the question was about the VA.”
Cochran, Balz noted, hadn’t mentioned Obamacare at his previous campaign stop, but after Balz asked about it, he told an audience at his Hattiesburg campaign office that he does oppose the law because Obama’s proposals aren’t “politically acceptable.”
“Obamacare is not the answer, in my view… The president’s proposals are just not going to be politically acceptable,” Cochran said.
Slate’s David Weigel catalogued another interesting moment of Cochran’s with reporters. The six-term incumbent suggested that television ads tying McDaniel’s campaign to the recent incident where a blogger allegedly photographed Cochran’s wife at her retirement home were out of his control.
“There are a lot of people running ads,” Cochran said. “Not just the candidates. I can’t control other people’s right to free speech, and I’m not going to try to. This is strictly a local law enforcement issue, as far as I’m concerned. It doesn’t come under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Senate.”
As Weigel noted, the ads in question are being run by Cochran’s campaign, and Cochran’s voice and likeness appear on the ad explaining that he personally approved it.
In a third interview, Cochran addressed controversy over his longtime executive assistant, Kay Webber, for the first time, saying she is “an outstanding member of my staff.”
“Well, I haven’t seen any real attacks on her,” Cochran said when Fox 13 Memphis asked him about criticism of Webber. “I’ve seen speculation and heard a lot of rumors, but we are not running a campaign based on rumors. She is an outstanding member of my staff and has been there a long time. She’s popular back home and I am glad she’s a member of my staff.”
Cochran has come under fire for what government watchdogs have described as a tangled web interconnecting the two financially. Cochran rents the basement apartment of a stately Capitol Hill house owned by Webber, while Webber rents her house as a venue and “bed and breakfast,” including to Cochran’s campaign.
The Cochran campaign has pushed back on criticisms that the payments for the house as a venue may have violated campaign finance rules since Cochran lives there, because the basement apartment is a separate residence. Now Webber is under investigation by the D.C. government over whether she filed the correct paperwork to keep a tenant and rent the property commercially.
Finally, Cochran was again pressed by another local TV station on why he won’t debate McDaniel.
“I’m not running to be a member of the debate team,” Cochran said. “I’m a candidate for the U.S. Senate.”
“But some people might like to see you compare thoughts in one place?” the local reporter pressed Cochran harder.
“I don’t think so,” Cochran replied. “I think it’d be rated pretty low down on the charts for public appeal.”