Greenwood, Miss. (Greenwood Commonwealth) – Back in 2014, Mississippi politicos underestimated Tea Party zealot State Sen. Chris McDaniel and it almost resulted in one of the state’s most shocking political upsets. At the outset, most thought McDaniel was taking on then-incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran as an exercise in building name recognition for a future race.
Not so. Cochran, then the state’s most influential member of Congress and in line to chair the Senate Appropriations Committee, was pushed to the limit by McDaniel’s insurgent campaign – a campaign financed largely by out-of-state super political action committees representing Club for Growth and Senate Conservatives Fund.
But in the GOP second primary, Cochran rallied to win the nomination based and eventual re-election to his final term in a 45-year career on Capitol Hill that saw him render heroic and historic service to Mississippi and the Gulf South after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
In every race, the McDaniel playbook is nothing if not predictable. His opponent is “not conservative enough” and fails McDaniel’s political purity test. McDaniel postures as a courageous champion of conservative issues and a skilled legislator who can effect real change really fast.
But the reality of the McDaniel shuck-and-jive is somewhat different – and often jarring in its hypocrisy. In almost every one of the four four-year terms (that’s 16 years, folks) that McDaniel has sought in the Mississippi Legislature, he’s filed a bill to implement term limits – it fails, then he runs for re-election. And as to his supposed legislative superpowers in the State Senate, a study of his actual record shows that McDaniel has rarely been successful in passing substantive legislation.
In the vast majority of instances in which McDaniel was the principal author of legislation, his Senate colleagues simply allowed his offerings to die in committee. McDaniel was successful in getting resolutions passed honoring school athletic championships or contestants who won pageants.
Notably, he successfully led to passage “Nathan’s Law” which enhanced the penalties for motorists who pass loaded school buses after the 2009 death of Nathan Key.
After losing the 2014 and 2018 U.S. Senate campaigns, McDaniel now returns to a statewide race challenging incumbent Republican Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann. His campaign announcement featured exactly the pitch McDaniel has made before – Hosemann’s insufficiently conservative and fails McDaniel’s purity test by working across the political aisle when possible.
The 2014 campaign saw McDaniel take on an aging Cochran who never was a firebrand campaigner and who genuinely dislike “in your face” political discourse. And the GOP primary in 2014 was a $16.4 million affair with the tab swollen by outside spending on both sides.
In that race, spending by PACs, super PACs, and 501(c) groups tossed in $10.7 million from third-party groups seeking to influence the outcome of the race either in support of or in opposition to the two candidates. That level of outside national money simply won’t be available in a Hosemann-McDaniel race.
The 2018 U.S. Senate special election race saw McDaniel run third in an open primary race to the ultimate winner U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, who gained the key endorsement of then-President Donald Trump. The self-proclaimed “conservative fighter” earned just 16.7 percent of the vote.
Most of all, the key difference in this race for McDaniel is that in Hosemann, he faces an opponent who will take the political fight to him. Based on recent campaign finance reports, Hosemann has a decided campaign finance advantage of $2.75 million more than McDaniel. McDaniel’s campaign finance numbers are drawing scrutiny over whether his disclosure and reporting comply with state rather than federal campaign finance rules.
Hosemann has been extraordinarily popular with Mississippi voters who have elected him to statewide office four consecutive times. The “not conservative enough” bilge doesn’t hold water and Hosemann’s honest efforts to listen across the political aisle and seek consensus over conflict when possible should be lauded, not criticized.
Voters remember Hosemann’s gentle little lady on the park bench “It’s Delbert, ma’am” series of TV political ads, but if the McDaniel camp ponders that series of ads and deciphers that Hosemann isn’t temperamentally prepared for a political street fight, think again.