LAUREL, Miss. — State Sen. Chris McDaniel is convinced Tuesday’s stunning upset of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor by a barely-known insurgent gives his own Mississippi Senate campaign fresh momentum. Sen. Thad Cochran had a very different view.
"I think it reverberates in every state in the republic, I truly do and yes, it will have an impact here," McDaniel told reporters during a campaign stop here.
Cochran, at a stop in Ridgeland, seemed incredulous anyone could make the connection.
"I doubt it," he said when asked about an impact. "It certainly reminds people if you don’t go vote, you’re relinquishing your power to participate in a democracy....we all benefit when we have more participation rather than less."
It was difficult Wednesday to gauge how the Virginia result would play as McDaniel and Cochran battle to win the Republican Senate nomination in a June 24 runoff election. McDaniel edge Cochran in the June 3 primary but neither got a majority.
Cantor, a Virginia Republican, was soundly defeated by economics professor David Brat in Tuesday’s primary, the biggest upset of a congressional leader in years.
Tea party backers and conservative groups hailed the victory as a harbinger of things to come. But they ignored a less stellar result Tuesday—in South Carolina, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., long a target of the tea party, coasted to re-nomination.
McDaniel’s key message Wednesday was that Cochran has no business calling him extreme, as the six-term senator did Tuesday at a Hattiesburg appearance. Cochran charged that McDaniel’s likely spending cuts would brutalize constituents.
If anyone’s extreme, it’s Washington insiders, McDaniel countered Wednesday in a talk to Jones County Republican Women. "Extremism is placing more debt on the backs of my kids," he said. "We are not extremists. We are patriots. We are Reaganites."
McClatchy later noted that Reagan never had a balanced budget, and the federal deficit surged to record levels during his eight-year presidency.
"He did the best he could considering the Democrats were in control of Congress," McDaniel said. Democrats controlled the House of Representatives during Reagan’s two terms, but Republicans had a Senate majority the first six years.
McDaniel went over well in his brief talk to the women. Some in the audience of about 50 felt that thanks to the Brat win, they were part of a national movement.
"If someone like that can succeed in Virginia, it says maybe there’s a chance for others," said Phyllis Guysinger, a Hattiesburg retiree.
McDaniel said that though it appears the Republican Party is split between tea party activists and establishment figures, most had the same underlying views.
Voters, he said, "understand that Washington is going in the wrong direction, and the only way to change direction is to change the people we send to Washington D.C."
That means ousting Cochran, he said. "Sen. Cochran has been silent for far too long. No one in this state can name a single fight that he’s led against (President) Barack Obama. The liberal agenda has had their way for 40 years and Sen. Cochran has been silent."
Among Cochran’s campaign stops Tuesday Vicksburg, where he toured Golding Barge Line and touted his role in keeping the state’s rivers navigable.
He cited projects like port dredging, waterway improvements and flood control as examples of how federal legislation he helped push—a common theme during his low-key campaign
State Del. Rita Martinson, a Madison Republican, saw little impact from the Virginia result. "There was sort of a different dynamic there," she said. "That was mostly about amnesty (for illegal immigrants). We don’t have that issue here."
Brat accused Cantor of backing amnesty because Cantor was sympathetic to a path for limited legalization path for children of undocumented immigrants.