- The Washington Times - Monday, June 2, 2014

SOUTHAVEN, Miss. — As Republican primary voters in Mississippi go to the polls Tuesday to choose between 42-year incumbent Sen. Thad Cochran and conservative challenger state Sen. Chris McDaniel, the state’s former governor is complaining that outside groups and major GOP figures are distorting the race to boost their own profile.

Haley Barbour, who served as national GOP chairman before serving two terms as governor of Mississippi, told The Washington Times that tea party-aligned groups such as the Club for Growth, Senate Conservatives Fund and FreedomWorks are scrambling to defeat Mr. Cochran in order to boost their own fundraising.

And he said major figures such as former vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin and former presidential candidate Rick Santorum endorsed Mr. McDaniel to boost their own profiles — doing a disservice to Mississippi voters.

“They don’t care about Mississippi,” Mr. Barbour said. “This is the only scalp that they might be able to get. So this is all for their national political standing. They don’t know Pascagoula from Ponotoc and couldn’t care less.”

Mr. Barbour’s critique of the insurgents’ motives comes as tea party groups are still seeking a major win in unseating an incumbent Republican this election cycle.

Put on notice by several losses in 2010 and 2012 primaries, establishment groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce geared up early this year to try to defend incumbents against tea party candidates. So far, they have been remarkably successful.

The insurgents predict that will change on Tuesday, where primary rules require a candidate to capture 50 percent of the vote to avoid a June 24 run-off. Should Mr. McDaniel win or force Mr. Cochran into a run-off, it could rewrite the storyline. Polls suggest Mr. Cochran has the edge in the race, but that it could be close.

Mr. McDaniel said Monday that he welcomes support from outside groups, saying that they “share our conservatives values in Mississippi” and suggesting that it is Mr. Barbour who is out of touch with the party’s conservative base.

“Apparently, he is no longer a conservative Reaganite,” Mr. McDaniel said at campaign stop here in a shopping center parking lot a few miles from the Tennessee border.

Chris Chocola, president of the Club for Growth, whose super PAC has spent nearly $2.5 million on Mr. McDaniel’s behalf, said that Mr. Barbour simply has a different endgame.

“Haley wants every Republican to win, regardless of how they vote in office,” Mr. Chocola said. “The Club for Growth PAC helps elect candidates who support limited government and free markets. Unfortunately, the two goals coincide less often than the Republican establishment cares to admit.”

Matt Kibbe, president of Freedomworks, which has a super PAC that has spent $286,000 on the race, said that the support from outside groups helps to level the playing field, and push back against groups like the Chamber of Commerce, which has spent $500,000 on pro-Cochran ads.

“It is almost impossible for insurgent challengers to take on such a well-funded incumbent without the support of outside groups,” Mr. Kibbe said.

At the McDaniel event here, Pat Nozinich, 61, said Mr. Cochran has bucked conservative principles for far too long and said she hopes the primary race serves as a wake-up call for the GOP establishment in Washington.

“I don’t see it so much as a chance to punch the establishment in the nose as to get their attention, grab them by the scruff of the neck and shake them really hard,” Ms. Nozinch said. “Because the establishment tends to overlook the power of the conservative side of the party.”

“We want to take control back of the Republican Party and let it represent traditional true Republican values,” she said. “And the establishment has not done that in quite some time.”

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

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