McDaniel plans to ride emotional wave to Senate

Published 11:23 pm Monday, April 24, 2017

Why would the name of a state senator from Ellisville be on a professionally created survey seeking voters’ views on national issues? The answer is obvious. The opinion survey is a pre-campaign ad. Chris McDaniel intends to be a U.S. senator.

There’s nothing particularly new about this for those who follow political maneuvering.

McDaniel is a dyed-in-the-wool super conservative. The banner on the email features the Confederate battle flag draped across Mississippi. An attorney, McDaniel once sued Haley Barbour.

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His name should be familiar because out of nowhere he out-polled U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran in the 2014 Republican Primary. He then lost to Cochran, who has been in Congress since 1972, by a mere 7,723 votes out of 382,221 cast in a runoff.

But it was close. So close.

Indeed, except for a third candidate in the primary, whose 4,854-vote showing kept McDaniel from achieving the required majority, he’d likely be U.S. Sen. Chris McDaniel today.

Couple the 2014 experience with President Donald Trump’s 2016 election being fed by fed-up voters and it becomes a slam-dunk that McDaniel will position himself to oust another “fellow Republican,” Roger Wicker, in 2018.

Wicker, from Pontotoc, is a conservative in the mold of Cochran, Barbour and so many others who have been targeted across America for not being conservative enough.

Wicker has never made a big splash, is cautious and thoughtful. His conservative pedigree is solid. Air Force veteran. Aide to former U.S. Sen. Trent Lott. Member of the Mississippi Senate. First Republican to elected to the U.S. House in Mississippi’s 1st District following the 54-year tenure Democrat Jamie Whitten. Re-elected until Lott’s departure and succeeded Lott on the last day of 2007.

Truth be told, McDaniel has already had an influence on Wicker, pushing him more and more to the right. That’s because 2014 tally wasn’t complete before Mississippi’s junior senator — very conservative but more gentlemanly — knew McDaniel would come after him.

Wicker has become more and more vocally anti-abortion and pro-gun and has refused to declare that climate change is real. Much of the real work of the Senate is mundane. Wicker’s day-to-day efforts have been more occupied with rural development initiatives and has been an effective advocate on matters such as post-Katrina relief and service to veterans. But to keep his job, if he wants to, he’ll have to add passion on hot-button issues.

Back to McDaniel.

He has figured out that the pathway to power is to create and then ride an emotional wave. A record of solid service or effective service or problem-solving doesn’t appeal to voters as much as it may have in the past. Whether anyone likes it or not or thinks it’s positive or negative, today’s voters vote with their hearts more than on candidates’ actual records.

Vitriol reigns.

“I believe establishment Republicans have compromised our values and flat-out surrendered on the field of battle for far too long,” says the preface of the “survey” emailed in McDaniel’s name. “As a result, our nation is over $20 trillion in debt, Obamacare is still on the books and the tax and spend gravy train continues to run full speed ahead in Washington and Jackson.”

The message claims there is nothing “fringe” about McDaniel’s Republicanism, that he represents the core of the party that isn’t interested in compromise and wants action.

Of course, what’s interesting is that Wicker, when first elected to the U.S. House in 1994, was of 53 Republican Revolution new delegates elected via the Contract With America devised by Barbour, then Republican National Committee chair. In fact, Wicker was elected president of that “super conservative” freshman class Democrats feared so much.

Voters were aghast at the then $4.5 trillion national debt which, as the McDaniel message says, has increased more than four-fold since. In 1994, Conservatives gained control of Congress and were going to wrest America back from the precipice.

Today, though, Wicker finds himself not nearly conservative enough. He’s extremely vulnerable and he knows it.

After the shocker in 2014, when a Cochran, considered a shoo-in for life because he had been so effective for Mississippi and had such a clean record, was almost unceremoniously ejected, McDaniel disappeared from the public view for a while.

But he’s back, wrapped in the banner of the old Confederacy, making periodic appearances around the state — and more determined than ever.

Materials popping up with his name on them, including the “survey,” are evidence that a polished, strategic campaign has begun.

Charlie Mitchell is a Mississippi journalist. Write to him at