Can Sen. Cochrane Hang Onto His Mississippi Seat?

Cochran Positive Ad

Mississippi polling data is now being released at a fast and furious pace. Earlier in the week, we reported about a NSON Opinion Strategies (April 2; 400 Mississippi Republican primary voters) survey that projected veteran Sen. Thad Cochran to be leading his Republican primary challenger, state Sen. Chris McDaniel, by a rather soft 45-37 percent margin. Yesterday, Harper Polling (April 3-5; 570 Mississippi Republican primary voters) released results that place the senator in much stronger political position.

According to Harper, Cochran’s lead is a much more robust 52-35 percent, but does show movement in McDaniel’s favor when compared to the firm’s previous Mississippi Republican survey (December 2013). In that poll, HP found the incumbent to be leading 54-31 percent.

But the data does illuminate Sen. Cochran’s areas of weakness. Among self-described Tea Party supporters, the two candidates were tied at 43 percent apiece in December, but now McDaniel has opened a substantial 53-35 percent within this segment. Among those who say they are “very conservative” Cochran led in December 49-38 percent. Now, it is McDaniel with an internal one-point lead, 45-44 percent.

The negative ads aimed at each man have taken their toll. The senator’s personal favorability rating has come down since December, as has McDaniel’s. Earlier, Sen. Cochran had a 64:28 percent favorable to unfavorable image. Now, this same question records a 59:30 percent positive to negative response for him.

Though state Sen. McDaniel’s aggregate rating was small in December because his statewide name identification was relatively low (33:17 percent favorable to unfavorable), he had a positive spread. While his ID has increased steadily, his positive ratio has now closed to 37:31 percent.

Cochran Attack Ad

Meanwhile, the television ad wars have begun in earnest for the June 3rd primary. Four commercials have been released since the month began, two spots from outside organizations, and two from the Cochran campaign. The first outside group ad tears Cochran down, while the second supports McDaniel. Of the senator’s two spots, one touts his conservative credentials, and the other goes after McDaniel.

Club for Growth – anti-Cochran

The Club for Growth ad hits the senator for voting with Jimmy Carter in the ’70s to expand federal control of education; in the 1990’s for George H.W. Bush’s tax increase budget; and at present with President Obama to raise the national debt. The script ends, saying “Thad Cochran: five decades in Congress is enough.”

Senate Conservatives Fund – McDaniel

The Senate Conservatives Fund commercial highlights a McDaniel rally speech where he claims that “every compromise the conservatives reach, the liberals always win,” and pledges to “restore the US Constitution, eliminate the national debt, to eliminate Obamacare.”

In his attack ad, Sen. Cochran hits McDaniel for responding “I don’t know” when asked if he would have supported Mississippi Delta Relief Fund in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. He further quotes the state legislator as saying to Mississippians that “I won’t do anything for you,” in reference to being their US Senator if he were elected.

The early April Cochran spot features a positive script touting his endorsement from the NRA, voting against Obamacare 100 times, his 100 percent voting record with “National Right to Life” and receiving official backing from Gov. Phil Bryant (R). According to the Harper Poll, both sitting incumbent Bryant and former Gov. Haley Barbour (R) have extremely high approval ratings among the Republican electorate (79:9 percent for Bryant compared to Barbour’s 72:17 percent). Both have been featured prominently in the Cochran campaign.

This race continues as the most serious primary challenge to a sitting Republican senator in the country, and the action promises only to get hotter as we steam to culmination at the end of Spring.

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