Issues affecting Mississippi stand at the center of this year’s campaigns for United States senator, and few would have predicted that federal spending for our state’s public schools, community colleges and universities would rise to passion and prominence.

The Republican primary, which has a June 24 runoff between incumbent U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran and state Sen. Chris McDaniel, has become a battleground over the role of $800 million in federal funds in Mississippi’s $3.2 billion K-12 education budget, as well as an additional $700 million spent on the state’s community colleges and universities.

We editorially criticized McDaniel’s statement opposing federal funding for education when it was reported in April, and Cochran supporters have appropriately, if belatedly, made it an issue in the runoff.

McDaniel has offered no way to replace that approximately $1.5 billion in federal funds coming into the state to support its education system at all levels. He has recklessly suggested that the state could absorb those drastic cuts without any serious impact.

The logical fall-back position to replace $800 million for K-12 education (which Sen. Cochran and others helped direct toward Mississippi in policy and legislative language) is by turning to the state and to local school districts for additional tax revenue – in other words, a local tax increase to make up for what is already ours but which McDaniel would reject.

Hard hit by the loss of the $800 million would be special education (think of the debate about special education funds during the 2014 session; under the McDaniel plan there would be virtually no funds to debate). Pre-K education like the Early Childhood Education Center in Tupelo would disappear. An as-yet uncalculated number of teaching positions would be eliminated.

Federal funds for Mississippi’s community colleges are roughly equal to what the state provides. How could that blow be absorbed?

Universities, it’s fair to say, would be devastated by the loss of $400 million in federal funds.

The Cochran campaign’s belated activist joining of the debate on the side of sensible education funding policy is gratifying. Many conservative voices in Mississippi’s business community have said for decades that strengthening public education is the only hope for raising Mississippi’s quality of life. McDaniel’s ill-conceived position represents a backward option. It shouts for a larger response from the state’s business community and leadership.

A better-educated population with improved job skills is our only conceivable way off the economic bottom. Cutting one-fourth of the money spent on K-12 schools in Mississippi and gutting community colleges and universities would be a disastrous course to perpetual mediocrity.

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U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran said he’s been energized by his hotly contested re-election campaign and that last week’s close primary results were a wake-up call to his supporters.

Cochran stopped by the Commonwealth’s offices for a 20-minute interview Monday afternoon with the Commonwealth’s publisher and editor, Tim Kalich, while on a campaign bus tour across the state.Cochran, 76, is seeking his seventh term in office but has faced his toughest re-election challenge ever from Chris McDaniel, a state senator and tea party favorite.Cochran said he’s expecting his supporters to turn up in far greater numbers at the June 24 Republican Party runoff.

McDaniel, 41, led Cochran by a razor-thin margin in the June 3 balloting but came up short of the majority needed to win the nomination outright.

“A lot of people stayed home because they thought we had it in the bag,” Cochran said. “Now we’ve discovered that this is a close election. I’m appealing to my friends and supporters to get busy and work with me.”

Cochran criticized McDaniel, saying that the challenger was becoming “better known because of some of the outrageous things he’s said about the government, about the country.” Cochran said the citizens and taxpayers of Mississippi “ought to be worried” if McDaniel were elected to the Senate.

Asked what the ramifications for Mississippi of a McDaniel victory would be, Cochran said it was “totally unpredictable. You don’t know what’s going to happen with this other fellow.”

This morning, Noel Fritsch, a spokesman for the McDaniel campaign, strongly objected to Cochran’s characterization of the challenger’s platform. Fritsch said McDaniel has signed on to Utah Sen. Mike Lee’s Conservative Reform Agenda and that McDaniel has also put forward his “own platform of five promises for Mississippi” — to “repeal and replace Obamacare,” back Senate term limits, push for a balanced budget amendment, end cronyism and to work for corporate and family tax cuts. Fritsch also questioned why Cochran had so far refused to debate McDaniel.

“While Senator McDaniel has accepted every debate invitation he has received to date, Sen. Cochran shamefully refuses to give Mississippians the policy discussion they deserve from those who hope to represent their interests in D.C.,” Fritsch said in an email. “Mississippians are right to question whose interests Sen. Cochran truly represents — theirs? Or the Washington lobbyists carrying Cochran’s water for him?”

Cochran, when asked Monday whether he was reconsidering his decision to not debate McDaniel, said, “I’m not having any second thoughts about anything relating to him.” Cochran called McDaniel a “wild man,” said he was “unpredictable” and was running an angry campaign.

“We need to take a hard look at what the consequences of this election would be,” Cochran said. “I have a lot more confidence in the ability of people to make a discriminating choice between someone who’s experienced and proven to be able to get things done and somebody who appears to be out to tear things down.”

State Sen. Lydia Chassaniol, R-Winona, who’s stumped for Cochran in the past and joined him on his visit to the Commonwealth, also said she was worried about a potential McDaniel victory. “I shudder to think what would happen to the Mississippi Delta if we didn’t have the sort of influence that Senator Cochran has brought for us,” Chassaniol said. “It’s huge.”

Cochran said that the current divisions in the Republican Party — with tea party-backed candidates challenging incumbents in a number of states — were the signs of “growing pains” for the GOP. “The Mississippi citizen is benefiting from the competition, I think, for programs and policies that enhance our economic success.”

Asked about charges from the McDaniel campaign that the incumbent senator is partially responsible for driving up spending and the deficit, Cochran said he shares some of McDaniel’s concerns about federal spending.

“I think there is more anguish over the federal budget deficit than a lot of people realize,” Cochran said. “I think most people share concerns that he’s expressed about balancing the budget. He just yells louder.”

Cochran, who drew criticism after he declined to appear before supporters on the night of the June 2 primary, said his absence was due to illness and not because of a lack of enthusiasm for the campaign.

“I had laryngitis so severe that I couldn’t be heard above a whisper,” Cochran said. “I couldn’t talk, and I thought it would be an imposition on everybody’s time and patience for me to try to address the group.”

With two weeks left before the runoff election, a campaign aide said Cochran was more “fired up” than he’d been in years.

Cochran said that some of the bitterness of the contest with McDaniel — labeled the “ugliest campaign in a generation” by Emily Wagster Pettus of The Associated Press — had ruffled his feathers. “He’s gotten me riled up, that’s one thing that’s clear and I’ll confess that, because of some of the outrageous things he’s said,” Cochran said.

The incumbent also touted some of his recent accomplishments. He pointed to his role in passing the 2014 farm bill, the legislation which sets the nation’s agriculture and food stamp policies for the next five years, as a particularly valuable achievement for the state.

If re-elected, Cochran said he’d focus first and foremost on national defense and security. The second point on his agenda, Cochran said, would be pushing through policies to help spur economic growth — and an education system that would create a well-trained workforce.

“I’ve proven that I’m effective in the Senate,” Cochran said. “I’ve gotten things done for the Mississippi Delta that wouldn’t have been done otherwise.”


After months of milquetoast statements and letting surrogates do any campaign trash talking, incumbent U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran went on the offensive in Hattiesburg on Tuesday, calling his opponent Chris McDaniel “an extremist” who would hurt Mississippi with indiscriminate cuts to federal spending.

He also made his strongest statements to date about McDaniel supporters allegedly sneaking into Cochran’s wife’s nursing home room and taking photos of her for a political hit piece video and about McDaniel campaign. And about an investigation into McDaniel campaigners being found by authorities locked in the Hinds County courthouse in the wee hours of the morning after election night with conflicting stories about why they were there.

But his offensive campaign and more hands-on stumping comes late in the game, as Cochran trails McDaniel at least slightly in recent polls since fighting to a draw in last week’s primary and heading to a runoff June 24. McDaniel led slightly in the primary, but neither secured more than 50 percent on June 3.

McDaniel continues campaigning on growing anti-Washington, anti-incumbent and tea party sentiment. Cochran is trying to turn the tables, remind Mississippians what his seniority and clout has done for the state.

“He said he wouldn’t even vote for disaster assistance for Mississippi,” Cochran said, referring to McDaniel statements early in the race where he demurred on whether he would have supported federal Katrina relief Cochran helped secure. McDaniel later clarified he would have supported the relief spending. One of the Cochran campaign’s earliest ads attempted to make hay over McDaniel’s comments.

“That’s the most outrageous thing I’ve heard ever from a public official in Mississippi,” Cochran said “… He doesn’t want any federal dollars used to help out a state like Mississippi after a hurricane has hit the Gulf Coast, like Katrina? Did he go down there to look at what had happened and how much money was going to be required to restore all of that?”

Cochran, 76, has faced questions of his age and whether he was really engaged in his own campaign for a seventh term or up to the task. Media and public access to him had appeared limited by handlers.

McDaniel supporters have seized on this theme, and claimed Cochran is too old, too immersed in Washington politics and out of touch with Mississippians. A “Where’s Thad?” website was created by McDaniel supporters before the first primary vote.

This week, Cochran is on the campaign trail across the state, making more public appearances and talking with potential voters and media and trying to take the offensive. He’s been hitting numerous spots that have benefitted from his seniority in the Senate and ability to bring home federal dollars. On Tuesday, stops included Forrest General Hospital and the University of Southern Mississippi School of Nursing — for which he helped secure $3 million in federal money to build a new nursing school building.

Of the Katrina relief, Cochran noted he worked hard with others in the state delegation to help save the Gulf Coast from ruin after Katrina.

“(McDaniel) is trying to indict that kind of power and influence in Washington?” Cochran said. “It would be dangerous to have somebody like him elected.”

Cochran also talked Tuesday about the incident with his wife in the nursing home and the McDaniel campaigners locked in the courthouse, although Cochran referred to it as “the jail.”

“It’s bizarre people got arrested doing things at the nursing home where my wife is,” Cochran said, “and the jail — people in there after midnight — and these are people working for him and his candidacy? What in the world were they doing up there? I don’t think anybody knows all the answers yet. How many people were involved? What were they up to? I’m just raising the question. I don’t have the answers. But it sure is bizarre, isn’t it? I mean, think about it.”

Cochran said that as the runoff nears, “People need to be reminded of things that (McDaniel) has said and done.”

“And what he’s promised not to do, like vote for the farm bill,” Cochran said, “or whether he would vote for programs to help the poor and the needy. We have a lot of federal initiatives and if he’s going to take in after all of them and cut the budget, we are going to be the state that suffers the most and to me that’s a mistake.”

McDaniel on Tuesday had campaign stops scheduled including Meridian, Newton and Forest. His campaign released a new television ad entitled “History.”

It says Mississippians on June 3rd “made history by voting for conservative Chris McDaniel for U.S. Senate” and that McDaniel vows to “repeal Obamacare entirely, reduce the national debt, cut taxes and term limits for all our politicians.”

Read more here.


The stars appear to be aligning for Republicans to take back control of the Senate, National Republican Senatorial Committee Executive Director Rob Collins told Journal editors this week. But a win by former radio talk-show host Chris McDaniel in Mississippi’s GOP runoff, he warns, could reorient the political scape in Democrats’ favors.

If history is any guide, Republicans stand to pick up six seats, which is the average for opposition parties in midterms since the 1950s. The field also favors Republicans, who have seven fewer seats to defend this year than Democrats. Of the 21 Democratic seats that are up, seven are in states that Mitt Romney won, and six are in states where he received 54% or more of the vote (Arkansas, Alaska, Louisiana, Montana, South Dakota, West Virginia).

Keep in mind, however, that Republicans lost Senate races two years ago in North Dakota (one point), Montana (four points), Indiana (six points) and Missouri (15 points)—all states where Mitt Romney won more than 53% of the vote. In 2010, Republicans also blew wild-cards in Colorado, Nevada and Delaware by nominating gaffe-prone candidates (though President Obama won all three states in 2012).

The GOP’s candidate roster this year is stronger due to NRSC recruitment and training, which has expanded the field. Mr. Collins lists North Carolina, Louisiana, Arkansas and Alaska as the most likely pick-ups. Exceptional Republican nominees have put Michigan, Colorado, New Hampshire and Iowa into play, and Oregon and Virginia are within a stretching-arm’s reach.

However, the NRSC executive fears that a McDaniel victory in Mississippi’s June 24 GOP run-off—the challenger edged out Sen. Thad Cochran in the primary last week by just over a thousand votes—could cost Republicans a Senate seat and undercut Republican candidates nationwide. Mr. McDaniel has an extensive audio record of impolitic comments that will likely come back to bite him. For instance, Mr. McDaniel has referred to Hispanic women as “mamacitas,” which few voters in or outside of Mississippi are likely to perceive as a term of endearment.

Democrats would love nothing more than to blare his gaffes through their media megaphone as they did two years ago with GOP Senate nominees Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock, which cost Republicans the Missouri and Indiana Senate races. Liberals will seek to turn the 2014 election into a referendum on “radical Republicans,” which helped them hold the Senate in 2010 and 2012. A McDaniel victory would give Democrats another shot at playing this winning card.


Education funding could become a focal point of the hotly contested U.S. Senate runoff between six-term incumbent Thad Cochran and his challenger, state Sen. Chris McDaniel.

Cochran supporters have begun zeroing in on McDaniel’s remarks earlier this year when he advocated eliminating federal funding of education.

Former Gov. Haley Barbour, who helped form a pro-Cochran political action committee, has said he believes McDaniel’s stance on education funding will help expand the runoff electorate in Cochran’s favor.

Of McDaniel’s position on federal education spending, “That’s just radical,” said Barbour, whose Mississippi Conservatives PAC spent an estimated $1.7 million in support of Cochran before the June 3 first Republican primary, according to media reports.

Roughly one-fourth of K-12 education spending in Mississippi – $834 million in the current fiscal year – is from federal funds, and hundreds of millions of additional federal dollars flow to the state’s community colleges and universities.

Not long after McDaniel garnered about 1,400 votes more than Cochran in the June 3 primary but did not capture the majority needed to avoid the runoff, Barbour spoke of the need to expand the electorate by attracting new voters to the Republican primary.

People who didn’t vote in the June 3 Democratic primary are eligible to go to the polls in the June 24 runoff, even if they didn’t vote in the first Republican primary.

Barbour said McDaniel’s position in opposing federal education funding in the state, as spelled out in an April 10 campaign speech reported by The Associated Press, would be devastating not only for schools, community colleges and universities, but also for the Mississippi economy, which relies on schools for a quality work force.

McDaniel said in the April speech that federal funding for education is not mentioned in the Constitution, so education for the federal government is “none of their business.” In an April interview with The Associated Press the day following the speech, he said if the federal Department of Education were eliminated, state and local governments could handle education funding on their own.

When the AP asked him if the state could handle the loss of federal money, McDaniel responded: “I think Mississippi, if it’s allowed to keep more of its tax revenue, could offset those losses.”

On Monday, McDaniel campaign spokesman Noel Fritsch said the primary point McDaniel was making is that the U.S. Department of Education should be eliminated. He said that is a traditional Republican position held by former President Ronald Reagan.

Fritsch said, “It’s unfortunate that Thad Cochran and his allies are spouting Democratic scare tactics about the dangers of fiscal responsibility. Chris McDaniel’s position is that of most Mississippians. We need to be good, conservative stewards of the taxpayer dollar.

“Education is a vital and core part of government and Chris supports efforts to improve education in Mississippi, but because Thad knows he can’t win with Republicans he is going to use Democratic talking points to try to scare people into voting for him. It won’t work and quite frankly it’s sad.”

Barbour estimated the state gets more than $1.5 billion per year in federal education funds. K-12 spending for special education includes school nutrition and Title I for poor children. Community colleges and universities get funds for financial aid while community colleges get work force training funds and universities receive similar funds, plus research grants.

Kell Smith, a spokesman for the state Community College Board, confirmed that the 15 community colleges receive $248 million, “a good deal of this coming indirectly from Pell Grants our students receive” while they receive $258 million annually in state funding.

“The difference between McDaniel and Cochran is dramatic,” Barbour said, adding the incumbent has long supported federal education funding on the federal level.

In a statement late Monday, Jordan Russell, a spokesman for the Cochran campaign, said, “Sen. Cochran believes education decisions are best made at the local level. He is a strong, consistent supporter of public education in Mississippi including K-12, community and junior colleges, and our universities because he knows a high-quality education is a key to providing opportunities for Mississippians.

“Judging from his comment on April 10th, Chris McDaniel’s position on public education would mean drastic cuts to our schools and universities. That’s another clear contrast between the two candidates for U.S. Senate.”

Read more here. 

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