Cochran May Be Last of His Kind

Since we focused a lot here yesterday on 2014 primaries, thought I should draw attention to Alexander Burns’ piece at Politico today looking more closely at the Mississippi GOP Senate primary on June 3. The incumbent, Thad Cochran, is an old-school conservative Republican, but also an old-school southern senator, which means one who understands how to use Senate seniority to bring home the bacon constituents expect. The challenger Chris McDaniel seems to be focusing on the idea that it’s the very desire for government help by the needy–and Mississippi is by any definition needy–that has created the Big Government all conservatives say they hate and fear.

So far it seems the intra-Republican debate has mostly focused on Cochran’s role in bringing Mississippi Katrina relief dollars and agriculture subsidies, which are popular but also border on ideological heresy. (“I’m not going to do anything for you,” McDaniel said on [the University of Mississippi] campus. “I’m going to get the government off your back, then I’m gonna let you do it for yourself.”). But as close and as bitter as the primary is likely to become, I’d be surprised if McDaniel doesn’t make the role of Big Government in helping those people–you know, the ones white Mississippians were put on the planet to keep down–a significant campaign theme.

As Burns notes, this is the primary that most resembles the 2012 Indiana contest that took down Dick Luger and ultimately delivered an unlikely Senate seat to Democrats. The parallels aren’t exact; Cochran, while well-liked in Washington, does’t have quite the global reputation of Lugar, and so far Mississippi Democrats haven’t even recruited a candidate for the race. But yeah, this is a primary to circle on the calendar. If Cochran goes down after 42 years of relatively non-controversial service in Congress because he’s not fighting against his own state’s share of federal dollars, then the old southern tradition of using seniority to shake down Uncle Sam on behalf of the good respectable folks (e.g., major agricultural landowners and defense contractors) back home is either dead or dying.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.