PERRY/Dems and Cochran?
Wednesday, December 11, 2013 12:00 AM
Republican Thad Cochran announced last week he would seek re-election to a seventh term in the U.S. Senate. He faces a Republican primary challenge from state Senator Chris McDaniel who has support from national and local Tea Party groups. Other potential Republican candidates bowed out when Cochran announced, although others could enter the race before the March 1 filing deadline.
Will Democrats run a candidate? Many potential Democratic candidates expressed reluctance to challenge Cochran, but there is some chatter one credible Democrat might qualify for the race in case McDaniel were able to topple Cochran in the primary. Someone like former Congressman Travis Childers could contemplate such a move.
Here would be the scenario: Childers qualifies for the Senate but doesn't launch a campaign until after the June 3 primary. If Cochran perseveres, Childers withdraws, recognizing Cochran's general election strength and appeal to Mississippi independents needed to win in November. But if McDaniel pulls an upset and becomes the Republican nominee, Childers starts with 40 percent of the vote and looks to woo independents and dissatisfied Cochran supporters to capture this Republican seat for the Democrats.
Childers, the former six-term Prentiss County chancery clerk, won a 2008 special election and 2008 general election to capture Mississippi's First Congressional District for Democrats, vacated by Republican Roger Wicker upon his appointment to the U.S. Senate. Then state Senator Alan Nunnelee (R-Tupelo) defeated Childers for reelection in 2010.
Childers' 2008 strategy would play out much the same in this 2014 scenario. After a bruising Republican Primary: exploit the political heartache of those losing and capitalize on regional differences. In 2008, Childers made a play for votes in his opponent's base of DeSoto County while pitting the rest of the district against "those Memphis suburbs." His opponent, then Mayor Greg Davis of Southaven, had defeated former Tupelo Mayor Glenn McCullough. Davis was from the solid DeSoto Republican area; McCullough's base was in the swing portion of the district which ultimately went for Childers.
In 2014, the First Congressional District in Mississippi's northeast hill country would be the swing district between a Childers versus McDaniel race and Childers would have the upper hand. Cochran, born in the heart of the First District in Pontotoc, would neutralize that advantage. But McDaniel of Ellisville, hailing from Republican leaning South Mississippi, would face an up-hill climb to gain traction with the swing voters in Childers' turf.
But there is a wrinkle in such a Democratic strategy by the name of Bill Marcy. Marcy, the former Republican Tea Party candidate against Mississippi's lone Democratic Congressman Bennie Thompson, left the GOP last year and now terms himself an "independent Democrat" with plans to run for the US Senate in 2014. Marcy is running on bringing black and white Christians together to elect a person of color (himself) to the Senate, and wants to bring his former volunteers and supporters (Tea Party Republicans) on board as well. Many of his former top supporters are now engaged with McDaniel's campaign.
If Marcy is on the Democratic Primary ballot, Childers - or another Democrat - would not be able to sit out and win the nomination on filing day to see whether they could launch a campaign after the primary. In the absence of any primary campaign, Marcy could win the nomination. Democrats could attempt to refuse to certify Marcy as a candidate, but that tactic has lost in court before.
If Democrats were serious about this, they would want a large primary to draw potential Cochran voters out of the GOP primary and help McDaniel win the nomination.
In the end, I expect Republicans to rally around their nominee after June 3 be it Cochran or McDaniel. Mississippi is solidly Republican and the nominee would be favored to win in November.
But were the match-up between Childers and McDaniels, national democrats would certainly make a play in Mississippi hoping for another opportunity to win a Republican seat like they did when Tea Party candidates defeated stronger general election Republicans in Delaware (Christine O'Donnell), Nevada (Sharron Angle), Missouri (Todd Akin) and Indiana (Richard Mourdock). In Indiana, the Tea Party challenger defeated long-term incumbent Republican Dick Lugar in a similar vein of attacks as the McDaniel campaign and supporters are using against Cochran, only to lose the seat to Democrats in the general election.
Could Democrats win Mississippi if that strategy worked? Doubtful, but it would cause Republicans to play defense in what would otherwise be a safe seat. That weakens the GOP plan to retake the Senate. To control the Senate, Republicans must defend incumbents in Kentucky and Georgia, while picking up six seats in Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana, North Carolina (all with Democratic incumbents) and Montana, South Dakota and West Virginia (all open seats).
Come March 1, we'll know if this is a plan.
Brian Perry is a partner with Capstone Public Affairs, LLC. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or @CapstonePerry on Twitter.