Could this finally be it? Could the Democrats be on the edge of finally beginning to unravel the GOP sweater of dominance in the deep south, 53 years after LBJ signed the Civil Rights Act?Time will tell, but if it happens, then at least that detestable slug Trump will ha e been good for something other than salt pouring practice.
Mississippi Senator Thad Cochran is out, due to health issues. Now, I’m no Thad Cochran groupie (who is?), but at 61 years old, I wouldn’t wish health issues on anybody, even a Republican. But the departure of Cochran is opening up an interesting power struggle in the GOP, one that the right Democrat may just be able to exploit.
Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant is expected to name MS state agricultural commissioner Cindy Hyde-Smith to replace Cochran. This reporting yesterday surprised me, simply because I didn’t consider a Governor who wanted to stop women from having abortions at 16 weeks would have women’s advancement at the top of his agenda. But Bryant considers Smith to be a rural populist like himself, and besides, the other front runner is 70 years old and would have a short shelf life in the Senate.
But there is one small problem with this happily-ever-after scenario, and his name is Chris McDaniel. McDaniel is the Mississippi version of Roy Moore, but without the affinity for under aged girls. In short, he’s a total pain in the ass of the MS GOP. In 2014, he fought a bitter and corrosive primary challenge to Cochran, almost upsetting him, and forcing a runoff that required Cochran to take the unimaginable step of courting African American Democratic voters to fend McDaniel off. McDaniel had already announced that he would primary the junior Senator, Roger Wicker, but dropped that challenge to run for Cochran’s open seat in November. Cochran’s term ran through 2020, so the special election will be on the regular 2018 ballot in November.
This could set up an interesting dynamic for Democrats, if they can find the right candidate. Smith carries some baggage, she doesn’t have universal statewide recognition, and in fact was a Democrat up until 2010. But McDaniel is a serious problem child for the “moderate” establishment GOP in Mississippi, and a personal thorn in the side of the Governor, who took the somewhat unusual step last week of publicly announcing that he would not “reward” McDaniel for his antics by appointing him to the seat, drawing ire from NcDaniels base.
This match up could clearly signal trouble for the GOP in November. McDaniel’s supporters are avid, and they’re irritated at the Governor snubbing their man. If Smith wins, they could well sit out November, especially with Trump not on the ballot. Another thing to remember is that Trump is losing some of his shine in the deep south, as displayed in an election day poll in the AL special election that showed his popularity tied at 49-49.But McDaniel revels in rebelling against the GOP establishment, and if in face he defeats Smith in the primary, then a large swath of the moderate GOP may well sit out November in protest. Either way, if this plays out in the primary, the party is going to be fractured. And if McDaniel wins, white suburban GOP women have already proven in both AL and PA-18 that they will cross over, or just stay home, McDaniel is a prime candidate to evoke such a reaction.
Democrats are motivated all over the country. The secret in the upcoming Mississippi special election is going to be the same as the Alabama and PA-18 special elections, finding the right candidate. And if the Democrats want to flip this seat, which will give them the seat until 2020, they are going to have to bite the reality lemon, pucker up, and take one for the team. As in AL and PA-18, a check-the-boxes progressive is not going to win. They are going to have to let the candidate run his campaign on state issues, but the payoff is there. After all, a Senator who votes with you 80% of the time is better than a GOP Senator who votes with you 0% of the time.
While the Trump White House is treading carefully here, acknowledging that the choice is Bryant’s to make, they are uneasy with Smith, and cautioning Bryant to consider carefully, lest the nightmares of Alabama be revisited. Personally, it seems to me that Bryant must have some special affinity for Smith, as an agricultural commissioner is an odd choice for a replacement for a sitting US Senator. But Bryant is resolute that he won’t name McDaniel, so pretty much no matter who he finally selects, it’s going to set up a nasty power struggle in the GOP primary, and a likely opening for the Democrats to strike, if they can find the perfect hot iron. We shall see.