• 61°

Hard feelings from ’14 carry into Senate race

Mississippi state Sen. Chris McDaniel has launched his second campaign for U.S. Senate, four years after refusing to concede the first.

The theme of his campaign, so far, is “Remember Mississippi.” The phrase reflects what McDaniel and many of his supporters see as dirty dealing by the political establishment in his loss to the state’s senior senator, Thad Cochran, in the 2014 Republican primary runoff.

“Remember Mississippi” is the name of a book one of McDaniel’s supporters wrote about that campaign, and copies of it were on sale Wednesday outside McDaniel’s campaign rally in Ellisville. It’s also the name of a political action committee that raised about $1.1 million in 2017 and that is now backing McDaniel as he challenges U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker in the June 5 Republican primary.

Speaking to about 200 people in Ellisville, McDaniel said elected officials in Washington don’t care about Mississippi.

“They look down on us. And they mock us. What do we know, right? Flyover country. Backwards. We can’t possibly understand the complexities of Congress,” McDaniel said. “But isn’t that the whole point? It’s our Congress. …They work for us, not the other way around. And if Washington is disconnected, and it is, and if Washington looks down on us, and they do, then it’s because men like Roger Wicker failed to stand with you.”

In a statement that day, Wicker said he is ready to run on his record. Wicker didn’t mention McDaniel by name, but his campaign manager, Justin Brasell, said McDaniel has accomplished “nothing for our conservative cause.”

“While Roger Wicker was speaking on Donald Trump’s behalf at the Republican National Convention and traveling the country to help elect President Trump and Republican U.S. senators, Chris McDaniel was missing,” Brasell said. “After attacking and insulting Donald Trump and his supporters in the primary, Senator McDaniel did nothing to help elect our president.”

Wicker, of Tupelo, served six years in the Mississippi Senate, starting in 1988. He won a U.S. House seat in the GOP wave of 1994.

After one of Mississippi’s two Republican senators, Trent Lott, resigned in late 2007, Republican Gov. Haley Barbour appointed Wicker to temporarily fill the Senate seat. Wicker defeated Democratic former Gov. Ronnie Musgrove in a 2008 special election to fill the final years of the term Lott started. Wicker easily won a six-year term in 2012 over a Democrat and two other challengers who ran low-budget campaigns.

The Republican primary this year includes a political newcomer, Richard Boyanton of Diamondhead. In 2014, McDaniel led Cochran in a three-person primary with a little-known candidate.

What the McDaniel camp calls dirty dealing in the 2014 runoff, the Cochran camp called hardball — but fair — politics. Cochran had long employed black aides on his Senate staff and was well connected with African-American leaders, and he defeated McDaniel in the primary runoff by courting black voters who traditionally support Democrats.

Mississippi voters don’t register by party, and the only people restricted from voting in a Republican runoff are those who voted in the Democratic primary for the same office. McDaniel unsuccessfully challenged his runoff loss by saying Cochran had improperly sought support from voters who never intended to support the eventual Republican nominee.

“The ten counties where Cochran improved most … were those where blacks make up 69 percent or more of the population,” McDaniel’s attorney, Mitch Tyner, wrote in a challenge to the state Republican Party. “Based on a scientific, reliable methodology, a comparative analysis of county-by-county increases indicates that Cochran’s vote increases were correlated to the percentage of blacks that live in each county.”

Emily Wagster Pettus has covered Mississippi government and politics since 1994. Follow her on Twitter: http://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus .