By Ted Carter
CLEVELAND, Mississippi – Thad Cochran’s visit here Friday for the close of the Delta Council’s 79th annual meeting netted him several standing ovations from an auditorium of invited guests and a declaration of support from Gov. Phil Bryant as “best for Mississippi.”
The enthusiasm for Cochran ran counter to an electronic poll taken among the guests gathered inside Delta State University’s Bologna Center. Conducted by political analyst Stu Rothenberg through hand-held devices distributed at the door, the polling of the 1,000-plus guests showed 90 percent disapproval of the job Congress is doing.
Discontent with Congress has been a key element of GOP primary opponent Chris McDaniel’s campaign against Cochran, a four-decade veteran of the Senate whom McDaniel claims has been too free with public dollars and much too inclined to compromise with Democrats.
With the support of tea party activists throughout the state, McDaniel has mounted a come-from-behind effort that today has the voting in Tuesday’s primary race too close to call. A poll released Friday by Mississippi-and-Washington-based Chism Strategies reported polling was too even to project a winner, though the phone survey of 834 land-line owners gave McDaniel a 2.1 percentage point edge.
Cochran took time off from the campaign Friday to sit where he customarily does on a Friday in late May – on stage at the Delta Council’s annual meeting.
He did not speak. Others spoke for him, however.
“He’s stood with us,” said Walter Gresham of Indianola, newly installed 2014-2015 Delta Council president.
In leading up to asking for a round of applause for Cochran, Gresham noted the senator’s support for higher education in the Delta, better access to health care, improved water resources and flood control and many other things “that have made the Delta a better place to live.”
A lengthy standing ovation followed Gresham’s call for an expression of support for Cochran’s “continued service.”
Keynote speaker Krysta Harden, U.S. Deputy secretary of agriculture, noted Cochran’s contribution to getting the 2014 Farm bill passed. He served as ranking Republican member of the Senate Agriculture Committee.
Bryant, just before introducing Harden, pronounced Cochran “best for Mississippi.”
Each day, Cochran does “what’s best for Mississippi,” he said.
Bryant, elected with strong support from the same tea party members who are working hard for Cochran’s defeat Tuesday, said in a later interview that he has supported Cochran from the start. His comments to the Delta Council audience “absolutely” were an endorsement, the governor said.
“I am supporting Thad for all of the things he has done and will do for Mississippi,” Bryant said.
Bryant said he expects Cochran to win reelection and become chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, an elevation that would require Republicans to regain control of the Senate in November.
Handicapper Stu Rothenberg, editor of the non-partisan Rothenberg Political Report, said in an interview after Bryant’s remarks that he sees Tuesday’s primary as a toss-up, though he gives a slight edge to Cochran.
The Cochran campaign should have some concern, he said, that the senator’s supporters may stay home Tuesday by having been convinced he is headed for victory.
An unknown at this point, Rothenberg said, is the amount of momentum McDaniel’s campaign may have lost through an unfolding scandal involving a tea party supporter’s alleged unlawful entry into the nursing home room of Cochran’s wife and the taking of photographs of her there. The scandal has also included arrests of a trio of tea party members on conspiracy charges related to the break-in and plans for posting the photos on a political blog.
The Chism Strategies Survey concludes McDaniel seems to have weathered any damage from the scandal, though the polling also found undecided voters were “disgusted” with the actions of both sides in the primary campaign.
“McDaniel’s numbers have recovered after the initial drop in the wake of the arrests of campaign supporters,” said Brad Chism, who conducted the independent polling of households with a voter who had participated in all three of the e of the 2008, 2010 and 2012 GOP primaries. He said thew poll excluded all voters who identified themselves as Democratic or “lean” Democratic.
The polling conducted last week followed an earlier tracking that showed McDaniel leading Cochran “within the margin of error before the scandal broke,” Chism reported.
The new poll had a margin of error of -3.4 percent, according to Chism.