Mississippi Republicans Prepping for Another Senate Primary

The same challenger could be back from the ugly 2014 race that went to a runoff.

Mississippi state Sen. Chris McDaniel
AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis
Kimberly Railey
Add to Briefcase
Kimberly Railey
March 15, 2017, 8 p.m.

In a Sen­ate cycle that will be played al­most en­tirely on Demo­crat­ic turf, Mis­sis­sippi could host an in­tern­al Re­pub­lic­an war.

State Sen. Chris McDaniel is ser­i­ously con­sid­er­ing a Re­pub­lic­an primary chal­lenge to Sen. Ro­ger Wick­er in 2018, four years after nearly un­seat­ing Sen. Thad Co­chran. Even at this early point, a McDaniel bid threatens to re­ignite the GOP rift that nom­in­a­tion fight laid bare, when es­tab­lish­ment and tea-party groups fueled one of the most hard-edged midterm battles.

Sev­er­al Mis­sis­sippi Re­pub­lic­ans con­ten­ded that Wick­er would enter a race against McDaniel as the fa­vor­ite, thanks to a cam­paign already mov­ing far more quickly than Co­chran’s 2014 ef­fort. But they warned that McDaniel, armed with a base of hard-core sup­port­ers, is still a strong threat.

“It would be a ser­i­ous chal­lenge,” said one Mis­sis­sippi Re­pub­lic­an, gran­ted an­onym­ity to speak can­didly. “The guy al­most beat Thad Co­chran, who’s a be­loved states­man.”

In an in­ter­view with Na­tion­al Journ­al, McDaniel em­phas­ized that “all op­tions are on the table” for his polit­ic­al fu­ture. A de­cision on a Sen­ate bid, he said, would come by the end of the year, but he doesn’t see him­self at a dis­ad­vant­age this time giv­en his per­form­ance against Co­chran.

“I don’t think I’m the un­der­dog,” McDaniel said. “Co­chran was next in line to be Ap­pro­pri­ations Chair­man, and Co­chran was in­cred­ibly pop­u­lar in Mis­sis­sippi.”

Com­pared with Wick­er, McDaniel ad­ded, “Co­chran was a much more for­mid­able op­pon­ent.”

But Co­chran got a crip­plingly late start, wait­ing un­til Decem­ber 2013 to de­cide to run again, months after McDaniel had de­clared. Wick­er has already hired a vet­er­an cam­paign man­ager in Justin Brasell, a Mis­sis­sippi nat­ive whose résumé in­cludes races for Sens. Mitch Mc­Con­nell of Ken­tucky and Tom Cot­ton of Arkan­sas.

Wick­er is also build­ing a grass­roots cam­paign in all of the state’s 82 counties, Brasell said. At the start of the year, he had $1.6 mil­lion in his cam­paign ac­count.

“Our plan is to pre­pare for a com­pet­it­ive race no mat­ter what,” Brasell said.

One ques­tion is wheth­er McDaniel’s bid will draw out­side sup­port from con­ser­vat­ive or­gan­iz­a­tions like the Club for Growth, whose su­per PAC shelled out more than $3 mil­lion to boost him in 2014. Spokes­man Doug Sach­tleben said the group is “watch­ing the race.”

McDaniel, who said he has had no of­fi­cial meet­ing with the Club, as­ser­ted that his team is in “con­stant con­tact” with con­ser­vat­ive groups around the coun­try.

Wick­er, mean­while, is poised to have the full weight of party lead­ers be­hind him, after chair­ing the Na­tion­al Re­pub­lic­an Sen­at­ori­al Com­mit­tee in 2016 and keep­ing the Sen­ate un­der GOP con­trol. That suc­cess, Re­pub­lic­ans said, en­deared him to a wide net­work of donors, as well as con­ser­vat­ive sen­at­ors who could prove help­ful sur­rog­ates against McDaniel.

In a state­ment, NR­SC ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or Chris Hansen said the com­mit­tee “is proud to fully sup­port” Wick­er in the primary and gen­er­al elec­tion.

“In 2016, Sen­at­or Ro­ger Wick­er saved the Re­pub­lic­an Sen­ate ma­jor­ity,” Hansen said. “Without his tire­less work, lib­er­al New York Sen­at­or Chuck Schu­mer would be in charge of the United States Sen­ate today.”

McDaniel, in de­clar­ing his ra­tionale for a bid, ac­cused Wick­er of not push­ing a con­ser­vat­ive enough ver­sion of health care re­form. But Wick­er al­lies said that strategy is flawed, point­ing out Pres­id­ent Trump’s back­ing of the cur­rent Re­pub­lic­an plan and Trump’s pop­ular­ity among the GOP base.

Trump en­dorsed McDaniel in 2014, tweet­ing that the state sen­at­or “wants things to change in Wash­ing­ton.”

For its part, the Wick­er team main­tains this would be an en­tirely dif­fer­ent race. Brasell said the sen­at­or is a close and trus­ted ally of the pres­id­ent.

“Sen­at­or Wick­er would ex­pect to have the strong sup­port of the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion,” Brasell said.

The polit­ic­al en­vir­on­ment was also far dif­fer­ent in 2014, when tea-party groups were look­ing for in­cum­bents to primary. Former House Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Eric Can­tor was de­feated that year, a week after the Mis­sis­sippi primary. No in­cum­bent Re­pub­lic­an sen­at­or has lost a primary since 2012.

Wick­er al­lies also ar­gued that the nasty end to McDaniel’s 2014 race could have soured his stand­ing among some Mis­sis­sippi Re­pub­lic­ans. After push­ing Co­chran in­to a run­off, McDaniel re­fused to con­cede and later filed a form­al chal­lenge to the elec­tion res­ults, al­leging voter fraud and oth­er ir­reg­u­lar­it­ies.

“When you go to battle, you’re go­ing to have some wounds,” said Noel Fritsch, McDaniel’s 2014 com­mu­nic­a­tions dir­ect­or. “Wick­er hasn’t been tested yet. That’s what this is go­ing to be all about.”

Even McDaniel crit­ics con­ceded that the state sen­at­or re­mains pop­u­lar among some con­ser­vat­ives in the state. After some Re­pub­lic­ans pre­dicted that chal­len­ging Co­chran would be a ca­reer-end­ing move, McDaniel was most re­cently reelec­ted to his seat with 86 per­cent of the vote.

As he weighs a Sen­ate bid, McDaniel has also been floated for oth­er statewide po­s­i­tions, in­clud­ing gov­ernor and lieu­ten­ant gov­ernor. To run for Sen­ate, he would not have to give up his cur­rent post.

In the mean­time, Mis­sis­sippi Re­pub­lic­ans said Wick­er, who was in­stru­ment­al to help­ing Co­chran win the 2014 run­off, is not tak­ing any­thing for gran­ted.

“The biggest dif­fer­ence is that the Wick­er cam­paign will be pre­pared and the Co­chran cam­paign wasn’t,” said Bri­an Perry, who ran a pro-Co­chran su­per PAC in 2014.

“Wick­er is tak­ing it ser­i­ously,” he ad­ded.

What We're Following See More »
TRUMP’S ATTORNEY WAS SET TO TESTIFY ON WEDNESDAY
Senate Intel Postpones Testimony by Cohen
1 days ago
THE LATEST
AMENDMENT WOULD HAVE PREVENTED CONSIDERATION
Senate Rejects Effort to Nix SALT Tax Changes
2 days ago
THE LATEST

"Senate Democrats on Thursday failed in their first attempt to save the state and local tax deduction, which helps many residents of California and other high-cost states reduce their federal income tax bills. The Republican-controlled Senate voted 52-47 to reject an amendment that would have prevented the Senate from considering any bill that repeals or limits the deduction as part of a planned tax overhaul."

Source:
INTERVIEWED BY COMMITTEE STAFF
Lewandowski Meets with Senate Intelligence Committee
2 days ago
THE LATEST

"President Donald Trump's former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski appeared on Capitol Hill for a closed-door interview with the Senate intelligence committee Wednesday, according to a source familiar with the matter. Lewandowski is the latest senior official in Trump's orbit who has met with the committee as part of its investigation into Russian election meddling and possible collusion with the Trump campaign."

Source:
FISHING EXPEDITION
Some Members Seek to Wrap Up Russia Investigations by Year’s End
3 days ago
THE LATEST

"A growing number of key Republicans are sending this message to the leaders of the congressional committees investigating potential Trump campaign collusion with the Russians: Wrap it up soon. In the House and Senate, several Republicans who sit on key committees are starting to grumble that the investigations have spanned the better part of the past nine months, contending that the Democratic push to extend the investigation well into next year could amount to a fishing expedition."

Source:
WROTE LAW THAT WEAKENED OPIOID OVERSIGHT
Trump: Marino Withdrawing Nomination for Drug Czar
4 days ago
THE LATEST
×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login