By Jim EllisMarch 2, 2018 — Mississippi state Sen. Chris McDaniel (R-Ellisville) announced at a rally this week that he will challenge Sen. Roger Wicker (R) in the June 5 Republican primary. McDaniel’s declaration, which had been speculated upon for months, came just before the state’s candidate filing deadline, which was yesterday.
In 2014, McDaniel came within an eyelash of denying Sen. Thad Cochran (R) re-nomination, as the incumbent was saved ironically through a reported deal made with African American leaders to deliver black votes for the senator in the Republican run-off.
In his original primary against Sen. Cochran, McDaniel actually placed first, but was denied winning the party nomination because he finished 1,719 votes away from attracting majority support. This forced the secondary run-off election. The presence of a third candidate in that primary race, the little-known Thomas Carey, who received 4,854 votes, created the dynamic for the run-off. Had Carey not been a candidate, McDaniel would have successfully won the GOP nomination, and would very likely be serving in the Senate today.
But a race against Sen. Wicker will be much different. Though McDaniel did very well in his challenge to Sen. Cochran, he still failed to win. Therefore, some of the luster his grassroots supporters had for him as a candidate may have faded at least to a degree.
Unlike Sen. Cochran, Wicker is ready for such a challenge and has been preparing for it since his colleague’s close call four years ago. At year’s end, Sen. Wicker had amassed more than $4.12 million in his campaign account.
By contrast, McDaniel begins at ground zero. For his 2014 statewide race, the Mississippi legislator raised over $3.3 million but ended that campaign with just a little over $8,000 in the bank and $25,100 in listed debts. Now, a little over three months from the next election, McDaniel has much financial ground to eclipse in a limited number of days.
Earlier there was talk of Super PACs forming to fund challenges to Republican incumbents, and McDaniel was likely to be a top recipient of such support. But, with Steve Bannon — the man who was originally spearheading such a drive — likely on the political sidelines, it is doubtful that such a fund, or funds, will be in existence to the degree originally contemplated. If we do not see an outside operation coming forward to help McDaniel, the new candidate will assuredly be at a very significant resource disadvantage.
Sen. Wicker was originally appointed to the Senate in 2007 by then-Gov. Haley Barbour (R) to replace resigned Sen. Trent Lott (R). He came to the Senate after serving most of six terms in the House, winning his original congressional election from the state’s northern 1st District in 1994. He was then elected to fill the balance of the Senate term in 2008, and won a full term in 2012. Now, Sen. Wicker seeks a second full term.
Another Republican, businessman Richard Boyanton, has also announced his candidacy. But the Wicker-McDaniel primary will draw a great deal of national attention, and Sen. Wicker begins as a strong favorite for re-nomination.