WASHINGTON (AP) — Out-of-state groups on Monday continued pouring money into Mississippi's Republican primary, criticizing Sen. Thad Cochran for staying in office too long. The six-term lawmaker responded with his own ads against challenger Chris McDaniel.
The new wave of ads suggest Cochran could face trouble in his June 3 primary, and that McDaniel, a state senator, may be emerging as the best shot for tea party-aligned groups to unseat an incumbent Republican in a primary this year. Cochran, who hasn't faced a real campaign in decades, recently has started working to defend his seat and his latest ad is his first negative spot of this election.
"Chris McDaniel is backed by powerful interests that Gov. Haley Barbour calls 'out-of-state phonies,'" a narrator says in Cochran's ad. "If Chris McDaniel won't do anything for Mississippi, why should Mississippians do anything for Chris McDaniel?"
That line of criticism borrows from comments McDaniel made at the University of Mississippi in February: "I'm not going to do anything for you. I'm going to get the government off your back, then I'm going to let you do it for yourself."
Mississippi consistently receives more federal dollars from Washington than it pays in taxes. So McDaniel quickly tried to back away from that rhetoric promising little government help for Mississippi voters.
To help McDaniel, Senate Conservatives Action announced ads that were to start running Tuesday. Those ads quote McDaniel promising to eliminate the United States' debt and repeal Democrats' national health care law, which he calls "Obamacare."
"Every compromise conservatives reach, the liberals always win. That's not compromise. That's called surrender," McDaniel says in the ads.
And separate 30-second ads from the anti-tax Club for Growth link Cochran to former President Jimmy Carter, noting the lawmaker voted to help create the modern Department of Education.
The ad also says Cochran voted to help George H.W. Bush break his "no-new-taxes" pledge. And the ad also features criticism for voting to increase the nation's borrowing limit. All are moves that tea party Republicans see as unacceptable.
"Five decades in Washington is enough," the Club for Growth narrator says.
Taken together, the ads suggest the 76-year-old Cochran could be in trouble as he seeks a seventh term.
Ads from Senate Conservatives Action, the super PAC of the Senate Conservatives Fund, and the Club for Growth are on television across the state.
FreedomWorks, a conservative grassroots organization, is paying for web ads arguing to Mississippi voters that "Thad Cochran is serving special interests in Washington and he's left Mississippi with the bill. Forty-one years is enough."
FreedomWorks' math includes Cochran's three terms in the U.S. House.
The home school-advocating Madison Project and the Tea Party Express both have been active in the race for the 41-year-old McDaniel.
But Cochran has his own allies — as well as a fundraising advantage and state history — on his side.
Mississippi Conservatives, a super PAC with deep ties to the state's politically powerful Barbour family, earlier this year ran ads asking voters: "Who is Chris McDaniel? He is whoever he needs to be."
The National Republican Senatorial Committee typically helps incumbents hold onto their seats.
And campaign finance reports show Cochran had $1.1 million banked to McDaniel's $390,794 as of Dec. 31, the most recent reporting deadline. Of McDaniel's money, $100,000 is a loan he gave himself.
New campaign fundraising reports are due next week.
Outside groups have had few successes in ousting incumbent Republicans during primaries and replacing them with more conservative candidates.
In Indiana, Sen. Richard Lugar lost his 2012 re-nomination bid — and Republicans lost the seat during the November general election. In Utah two years earlier, Sen. Bob Bennett lost his bid for re-nomination; Mike Lee won the seat and has become a favorite of the tea party in the Senate.
Mississippi likes to keep its senators. The last time a senator there lost a renomination bid was 1942.
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