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BOBBY HARRISON: Dynamics of U.S. Senate race take shape in Mississippi

By Bobby Harrison

JACKSON, Mississippi — In recent years, Republicans’ efforts to take over the United States Senate have been thwarted at least in part by the ultra-conservative wing of the party – i.e., the Tea Party.

In Nevada, Delaware, Missouri, Indiana, Alaska, to name a few, the Republicans have lost what at one time were considered likely victories by nominating candidates the general election voters viewed as too conservative, out of the mainstream.

PPP, a national polling firm that is viewed as having allegiances to the Democratic Party, recently polled the 2014 Senate race here in Mississippi.

The poll revealed that in Mississippi – viewed as a safe Republican seat in national and most state elections – at this point in time a Democratic candidate would be competitive with state Sen. Chris McDaniel, R-Ellisville, who is the only candidate yet to announce he is seeking the seat in 2014.

McDaniel, who can be seen statewide in television commercials being paid for by national Tea Party-related political action committees, leads by slight margins two big-name Democrats – former Gov. Ronnie Musgrove and former U.S. Rep. Travis Childers of Booneville. He trails by a slight margin current Attorney General Jim Hood – Mississippi’s only statewide elected Democrat.

In all three instances, the races are statistically dead heats, meaning the results are within the poll’s margin of error.

It would be interesting to see how Northern District Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley would have fared in the poll.

Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, a possible candidate for the Senate seat, polls better than McDaniel against the three Democrats – though there is only a one-point difference in a head-to-head with Hood.

PPP polled 502 Mississippi voters, “including an over sample of 422 Republican voters,” making the strong showing of the Democrats mentioned in the poll even more surprising.

Of course, the question is whether six-term incumbent Thad Cochran will run again. The veteran Republican has said he will announce a decision this month.

The poll indicates that Cochran is vulnerable. He leads McDaniel by only 6 percentage points and 55 percent say they would prefer a candidate more conservative.

At this point, the smart money might be on Cochran not running. Normally, if a politician plans to seek re-election, that person does not give any potential challenger an opening by wavering.

If Cochran does run, none of the aforementioned Democrats will enter the race, though, surprisingly, according to the poll, Hood would be competitive against the incumbent.

But still, regardless of the poll, it is difficult for daily observers of the Mississippi political scene to imagine a scenario where a Democrat could defeat Cochran in the general election.

If Cochran does not run, though, look for big-name Republicans and at least one Democrat to enter the race.

The PPP poll shows McDaniel, who has received a great deal of statewide attention since his announcement, with a slight lead in a crowded Republican field, which might include U.S. Reps. Greg Harper and Steven Palazzo, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, Auditor Stacey Pickering and Hosemann.

Interestingly, Reeves polls at the bottom of the Republican field with only 3 percent support.

But the interesting proposition for state Democrats, who have been beaten up and are at a low ebb, is whether a candidate could emerge from the Republican primary that even by Mississippi standards might be viewed as too conservative.

That has happened in other states, costing Republicans a chance to garner a Republican Senate majority

Many might argue that the general electorate is much more conservative in Mississippi, meaning that a candidate who is too conservative, say in Indiana, would not be in Mississippi.

Is that correct?

We might see next November.


» Contact Bobby Harrison at (601) 353-3119 or bobby.harrison@journalinc.com.


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About Ross Reily

Ross Reily is editor of the Mississippi Business Journal. He is a husband to an amazing wife, dad to 3 crazy kids and 2 dogs. He is also a fan of the Delta State Fighting Okra and the Boston Red Sox.


  1. As a Democrat I have long recognized the Tea Party and the right wing Republicans to be one of the most effective allies we Democrats have. They increasingly can only win in places where a Democrat can’t win anyway. Wherever moderates, independents and minority voters decide elections the Tea Party brand throws the elections to the Democrat. The Virginia governor’s race is only the most recent example. Voters there chose a flawed Democratic candidate over a right wing Republican. The longer the Tea Party/right wing controls the Republican image and momentum the further the Republican Party slides toward being only a Southern and Mormon party. Republicans need to revive their all but dead moderate wing if they are to survive as a national party.

  2. Wow, difficult reading this article with the introductory diatribe where you channel the mind of Karl Rove and his RINO whining about the tea party. Had the RINOs provided any modicum of support to these candidates Harry Reid would be a very small footnote to the history of the Senate. Instead, the country club Republicans pouted and suddenly couldn’t find any room in BIG TENT republicanism for these candidates. Look up Joe Miller and tell me he is not head and shoulders above any currently serving Republican Senator. West Point Grad, Combat veteran, Yale Law, but somehow doesn’t meet Karl Rove’s standards…yeah right.

  3. i love it when the Democrats tell us how to run the Republican Party. Unlike the Democrats who have taken over Washington with their socialist agenda and disastrous Unaffordable Health Care Act, most Americans feel that we like our country and we would like to keep it. Apparently, Washington Democrats can’t make that promise.

  4. Michael, you forget that most Americans vote Democratic and have for five of the last six presidential elections. Republicans can either have ideological purity or they can be a national party with a chance of winning more than a gerrymandered House of Representatives. But they cannot do both. A Ted Cruz like nominee in 2016 would be another Goldwater and a dream opponet for the Democrats. Every constituency of the GOP is dwindling year by year while every Democratic constituency is growing. Doubling down on extreme conservatism that has little appeal beyond older white folks is a sure path to becoming the latest incarnation of the Whigs.

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