Friday, June 20, 2014

The Conundrum Behind the Mississippi Primary

Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS)

To a Democrat, there is very little difference between incumbent Sen. Thad Cochran, the longest-serving Republican in Congress, and State Sen. Chris McDaniel, who are in one of the great battles of 2014 and the next big primary of the cycle.  They’re both anti-gay marriage, pro-life, and have abysmal environmental records.  They both consider gun control the worst term in the English language (well, maybe second to Obamacare).  There’s a fairly decent chance that their voting records over the next six years, regardless of who gets elected, could well be 92-94% identical.  For me, I don’t have too much of a horse in this race as an outsider, because what’s the difference on my end?

But for someone in Mississippi, there’s one very big difference, and that’s the angle that Thad Cochran has struggled to gain traction with, even though it’s his ultimate trump card: seniority and pork.  Seniority in the Senate doesn’t mean a whole lot when a first-term senator can be in the fifty most senior members of the body, but it does matter when you’re the most senior member of the Senate Appropriations committee, which Cochran is.  And it matters when you have the deep economic and social issues that Mississippi does.

One of the complete truths (and I hope I have a Mississippi reader or two who can point out if there’s any flaws here, as I’ve never been to the Magnolia State) about America is that our states may be united, but they’re hardly created equally, and few states show up in fiftieth place in more polls than Mississippi.   Employment, education, quality of life, length of life-Mississippi is almost always at the bottom of the barrel in these states.  There are counties in Mississippi where the life expectancy is on par with El Salvador and Honduras.  It is a state in dire need of deep educational, economic, and wellbeing reforms, and needs politicians who understand that.

This is particularly true when it comes to federal aid.  Mississippi has, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the 3rd highest unemployment rate in the country.  They have the highest poverty rate of any state in the union (an astounding 20%).  22.3% of the population of that state is on food stamps, and Mississippi has the “takingest” rate when it comes to revenue, receiving $3 in federal spending for every $1 contributed in taxes.

This is the only major difference between Cochran and McDaniel, and while I think they’d be smart to skip both entirely and pick someone like the Democratic candidate Travis Childeres, pragmatic Mississippians would be fools to sign on for the Tea Party movement, because they would suffer more than the remainder of the country would.  The Tea Party Express is dramatically against government spending, and in particular poverty and welfare programs which the Magnolia State is heavily reliant upon.

I don’t want this to become a piece endorsing Thad Cochran, because I have disagreed with him on many, MANY things over the years and would never dream of voting for him in the general over Childers, but I cannot believe that Mississippi voters would cast a vote for a man like McDaniel, who wouldn’t have even voted for the Farm Bill because of its food stamp programs, despite 22% of his theoretical constituents needing that program to survive.  He would cut in a dramatic fashion federal assistance to his home state.  I know that the national debt is something that we do need to do something about, but picking an ultimate hardliner who would put a rigid principle before the needs of his specific constituents: that’s something I am surprised even a state I differ from on so many fundamental political beliefs would endorse.  If and when Thad Cochran loses on Tuesday, it will be for doing something any pragmatic person would have done in his situation, and I have a feeling will hurt Mississippi deeply when it comes to that 6-8% difference between their two voting records.

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