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.”