- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 1, 2014

OXFORD, MISS. — Sen. Thad Cochran is closing out the final days of his primary campaign by promising voters that if he’s re-elected he will keep doing what he has done for decades: fighting to make sure that Mississippi gets its “fair share” of the federal pie.

The promise of the Republican incumbent clashes with the limited government message that two-term state Sen. Chris McDaniel, his tea party-backed challenger, has espoused on the campaign trail, where he has called Mississippi a “welfare state,” pledged to get government off people’s backs, and blamed the likes of Mr. Cochran for the nation’s $17 trillion national debt.

The irony, according to political observers and GOP insiders, is that the thing that could end Mr. Cochran’s 36 years in the Senate — his proven ability to steer federal funding to Mississippi — is the same thing that also could save it.

“Mississippi would dry up like a prune if we didn’t have the federal government,” said Joseph Parker, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Southern Mississippi.

“Obviously, cussing the federal government is like kicking the dog — everybody does it for one reason or another, but Mississippi is getting a fabulous return on its investment in Washington,” Mr. Parker said.

Mississippi and New Mexico are ranked as the most dependent states on the federal government, according to a recent study from WalletHub, a personal finance social network.

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The study said that federal funding comprises nearly 46 percent of Mississippi’s revenue and said the state received $3.07 back for ever dollar it sent to the federal government.

A Tax Foundation study also found that Mississippi ranked first in the amount of federal aid as percentage of state revenue.

Mr. Cochran, 76, has been master at bringing home the bacon, and suggested during the campaign that he’d like to see the return of earmarks, which lawmakers put on ice in 2010.

In the three years leading up to moratorium, Mr. Cochran steered more earmarks to his home state than any other member of Congress.

“Senator Cochran requested 709 earmarks, costing taxpayers $1.9 billion dollars,” said Thomas A. Schatz, president of Citizens Against Government Waste. “Each year he had both the highest number and dollar amount in earmarks. It would be legitimate to say that Sen. Cochran was the No. 1 earmarked, or porker, however you want to describe it, for fiscal years 2008, 2009, and 2010.”

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Mr. Cochran also helped secure disaster funding for the state, and is now in line to become chairman of the powerful appropriations committee if Republicans win control of the Senate.

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But Mr. Cochran’s genteel, old fashioned, approach has fallen out of favor with the conservative grass roots, which celebrate the likes of Sen. Ted Cruz, the fresh Texas Republican of Texas who has taken more of a no-holds-barred approach to governing.

Mr. McDaniel, 42, says that he is cut from the same cloth as Mr. Cruz, and caught flak earlier this year for saying “I’m not going to do anything for you.”

“This race is about Mississippi’s future not its past,” said Noel Fritsch, a spokesman for Mr. McDaniel’s campaign. “Mississippi voters know we need a change in Washington. The status quo has left not just our country but in fact our state worse off.”

Kevin Broughton, spokesman for the Tea Party Patriots Citizens Fund, which has spent nearly $630,000 on behalf of Mr. McDaniel, said that Mr. McDaniel is challenging conservatives to take a good look in the mirror.

“We call ourselves conservatives, but here are the state party machine leaders saying we cannot afford to lose this spigot of money flowing our way,” Mr. Broughton said. “And that is the kind of criticism we level at Democrats and liberals all the time.”

“If we are going to be that way, if Republicans in Mississippi think that the most important thing is to keep our addiction to federal money sated, or satiated, that’s fine. Let’s embrace it and be ideologically honest about it — but let’s never call ourselves conservatives again,” Mr. Broughton said.

But Former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, a top GOP fundraiser, has emphasized that Mississippi is the poorest state in the nation and said that Mr. Cochran’s seniority is “incredibly important” for the state.

“You have a whole lot of people whose jobs have resulted from things that Thad has done that are good for the country and good for the state,” Mr. Barbour said. “People are appreciative of it. Mississippi knows it, and they may have to be reminded of it sometimes, but they are appreciated of it.”

Joe Worrell, 51, of Magee, said he wants change, but he wants it done right, and will likely support Mr. Cochran.

“You gotta do what you gotta do to get the money for your state,” Mr. Worrell said. “So, I’ll scratch your back, you scratch mine. It has been that way forever.”

Ralph Lauderdale, 64, of Booneville, also said he appreciates the success Mr. Cochran has had bringing money back to the state, as well as his response to Hurricane Katrina.

“He is trying his best to bring financial betterment to Mississippi,” Mr. Lauderdale said. “He is in a position that he can lean a lot of his influence toward Mississippi. Sometimes, in politics, it is better to have someone who has been there than someone who has to build up his reputation with other members.”

• Seth McLaughlin can be reached at smclaughlin@washingtontimes.com.

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