Tea Party takes on veteran Cochran in Mississippi runoff

MERIDIAN Miss. Tue Jun 24, 2014 12:53pm EDT

1 of 2. A combination photo shows Tea Party candidate Chris McDaniel (L) attending a rally in Madison, Mississippi and Republican U.S. Senator Thad Cochran campaigning in Pass Christian, Mississippi June 19, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Jonathan Bachman/Lee Celano/files

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MERIDIAN Miss. (Reuters) - Voters in Mississippi cast ballots on Tuesday that will decide whether to retire a veteran U.S. senator who has steered billions of dollars to his impoverished state, in the latest showdown between the Republican establishment and its insurgent Tea Party wing.

The election, a runoff between Senator Thad Cochran and challenger state Senator Chris McDaniel, has become a multimillion-dollar referendum on the direction of the Republican Party. This year's primary season has pitted the party's business-friendly wing against groups that place a premium on small government.

Senior Republican lawmakers in Kentucky, Idaho and Texas, aided by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other business groups, have turned back primary challengers who argued that the incumbents are too willing to compromise with President Barack Obama and his fellow Democrats.

But the stunning upset two weeks ago of Representative Eric Cantor, the No. 2 Republican in the House of Representatives, by a little-known candidate showed that clout in Washington is no guarantee of victory back home.

Turnout was slow Tuesday morning at three predominantly African-American polling places in Jackson.

Cochran, 78, has been re-elected by wide margins since he first won a seat in Congress in 1972, and courthouses and research centers throughout the state bear his name.

Cochran has channeled billions of federal dollars to Mississippi for shipbuilding, highways, crop subsidies, disaster relief and other projects. The state, which has the lowest median income in the United States, depends on that money, and the jobs it creates, for nearly half of its budget.

"If you've got a good thing going, don't ruin it," said retiree Jim Cantey, 78, at a diner in Meridian, Mississippi.

McDaniel argues that Cochran's nuts-and-bolts approach is out of step with voters in his deeply conservative state.

Ken Flynt, a Meridian business owner, said he voted for McDaniel over concerns that the national debt is too high and because he wants to see cuts in government spending.

“We’ve got to wean ourselves from it,” he said. “We’ve got to get away from looking to the federal government from the womb to the tomb.”

Cochran has spent $4 million so far on his re-election, and business groups such as the National Association of Realtors have poured in another $4 million.

McDaniel has spent $1.5 million, but he has been helped by more than $7 million in outside spending by conservative groups such as the Club for Growth.

McDaniel edged Cochran in a June 4 primary but failed to win 50 percent of the vote, prompting the runoff.

The winner will be strongly favored to defeat Democrat Travis Childers in the Nov. 4 election.

Republicans need to pick up six seats to win control of the 100-seat U.S. Senate, which would give them greater leverage to oppose Obama's agenda during his remaining two years in the White House.

(Additional reporting by Andy Sullivan in Washington; Editing by Alistair Bell and Tom Brown)

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Comments (12)
Dehumanist wrote:
I’ll be happy to see these “small gov’t” types once they see how things work out once the money tree stops shaking it’s fruits back to their home districts.

Jun 24, 2014 5:35am EDT  --  Report as abuse
9825 wrote:
@Dehumanist- That money tree shakes both ways. In other words, smaller government equals less payment to Washington equals more money stays in your district. All the feds do is skim off the top. If you buy direct without a middle man you end up with a better price.

Jun 24, 2014 9:50am EDT  --  Report as abuse
foiegras wrote:
Down in my neck of the woods – the sticks, Northern Florida – we like big houses. We go around to our friends who have big houses and we talk about houses. Maybe, if we get real creative, we talk about interesting ways to remedy the mold that’s growing in the drip line from out A/C unit. We have parties where we hang Obama in effigy from a tree in the front yard. We hate Obama. We’re red-blooded Americans. We’re sick – way sick – and rack up about 100K a year in Medicare billing. We’re on Social Security Disability. Maybe we get a military pension too. We hate the government. We drive Cadillacs.

Jun 24, 2014 5:50pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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