- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 29, 2014

BILOXI, Miss. — Henry Barbour, a major player in Mississippi Republican politics, says he never would have stood behind Sen. Thad Cochran’s re-election push so quickly if not for the early onslaught by out-of-state tea party groups eager to slay the veteran lawmaker.

The early barrage of ads on behalf of state Sen. Chris McDaniel served as a wake-up call for Mr. Barbour, a Republican National Committee member and prominent strategist, and like-minded Republicans, and is one of the reasons conservative and tea party groups are having a tough time unseating incumbents.

“When the out-of-state groups went up on TV last October, it alerted me to the fact that we’d better prepare for a heavy dose of outsiders distorting Thad Cochran’s record and trying to pick our U.S. senator from Washington,” said Mr. Barbour. “That’s when I started making preliminary calls and plans to put together a group of Mississippian Republicans to have our own super PAC.”

The PAC, Mississippi Conservatives, has sunk nearly $1.6 million into the primary race, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Most of that money has funded ads attacking Mr. McDaniel as a trial lawyer with a track record of saying one thing on issues but doing another.

The influx of money on both sides has escalated the fight between the Republican establishment, which backs Mr. Cochran, and tea party and anti-establishment groups in Washington, which support Mr. McDaniel.

The Cochran camp released a television advertisement this week in which the narrator says three people closely connected to Mr. McDaniel have been charged with felonies.

“Had enough?” the narrator says, before touting Mr. Cochran’s military service, opposition to Obamacare and endorsements from the National Rifle Association and Gov. Phil Bryant, a Republican. “Rise up and say ‘no’ to dirty politics and ‘yes’ to our strong conservative leader, Thad Cochran.”

The outside groups — including Club for Growth Action, the Senate Conservatives Fund and FreedomWorks for America — have spent $5 million on behalf of Mr. McDaniel. The money from the outside groups has helped offset the $2.4 million fundraising advantage that Mr. Cochran has over Mr. McDaniel, according to the latest breakdown from the Center for Responsive Politics.

The groups portray Mr. Cochran as a creature of Washington, knock him for refusing to debate and accuse him of selling out on core conservative issues, namely spending, taxes and immigration.

The contest took a nasty turn this month after a blogger who supported Mr. McDaniel was arrested for taking pictures of Mr. Cochran’s bedridden wife, Rose, who suffers from dementia and has been in a nursing home for several years.

Since then, three others — including a tea party activist and a McDaniel radio show co-host — have been arrested in connection with videotaping Mrs. Cochran.

Mr. McDaniel denied any knowledge of the case, and authorities said they have not linked him to the scandal.

The Cochran campaign has raised questions about how much Mr. McDaniel knew about the incident.

Mississippi Conservatives struck again Thursday by rolling out another spot that said Mr. McDaniel had the “worst attendance record in the state Senate — absent 118 times.”

McDaniel even skipped an important pro-life vote to campaign in Washington, causing the amendment to fail by one vote,” the narrator says. “Chris McDaniel, he says one thing, his record says something else.”

Voters said they are sick of the nasty ads and are tuning them out.

“Honestly, I turn the channel, and that is for both of them,” said Joe Worrell, emergency management director with the city of Magee who plans to support Mr. Cochran. “It is just absolutely ridiculous that you have to go that route. You’ve got to live on your morals.”

The polls are all over the place. Two of the latest surveys show Mr. Cochran holding a double-digit lead, and another shows Mr. McDaniel up by 4 percentage points.

Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, who served in the Senate for 12 years with Mr. Cochran and won the most votes in the 2012 Republican presidential primary in Mississippi, entered the fray Thursday by endorsing Mr. McDaniel.

“He is a proven conservative who will be guided by the U.S. Constitution as he votes on issues before the U.S. Senate,” Mr. Santorum said.

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, the party’s 2008 vice presidential nominee, has endorsed Mr. McDaniel and released a radio commercial this week urging voters to support the “true conservative” in the race.

The winner of the race is expected to easily hold the seat for Republicans. Former congressman Travis Childers is the leading Democratic contender in a four-way primary race with William Compton Jr., Bill Marcy and Jonathan Rawl.



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