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June 04, 2014 3:31 PM Could Chris McDaniel Lose in November?

By Ed Kilgore

A wild card in the whole Mississippi Senate contest is the question of whether Chris McDaniel could actually lose a general election to conservative Democratic former House member Travis Childers in this deep-red and racially polarized state. That possibility was a good talking point for Thad Cochrane’s campaign. But now, as noted here earlier, it could turn on Cochran by creating a strong GOP disincentive to a savage runoff campaign accusing the challenger of the unlikely sin of being too wingnutty for Mississippi.

Thus the underlying question is whether Childers really has a prayer, according to the standards set by surprise 2012 winners Tim Donnelly of Indiana and Claire McCaskill of Missouri.

In addressing that question, RCP’s Sean Trende chooses to compare Mississippi 2014 to Indiana 2012, presumably because of the Lugar-Cochran parallels. You can read Sean’s entire post, but he basically goes through a four-part analysis in which Childers is adjudged sufficiently similar to Donnelly to exert significant cross-party appeal in the right circumstances; McDaniel is viewed as capable of, but not necessarily prone to, the kind of crazy talk that got Mourdock in trouble; Mississippi is assessed as significantly more inflexibly red than Indiana because of racial polarization; and 2014 is considered a much tougher election cycle than 2012 for any Democrat anywhere. Thus, concludes Trende:

If Cochran had been unopposed in the primary, this race would probably be safely Republican. It isn’t anymore. With that said, it isn’t an automatic tossup either, for the reasons stated above. Somewhere between “Leans Republican” and “Likely Republican” seems appropriate for now.

That seems accurate, and entirely fair to Childers. But there is one data point I’d mention that Sean didn’t: there was a recent ballot test in which Republicans very much like Chris McDaniel did indeed prove to be too wingnutty for Mississippi: the 2011 “Personhood” vote. Despite backing from both parties’ candidates for governor, and a host of conservative and political groups and individuals, the initiative, aimed at defining constitutionally protected life as emerging “from the moment of fertilization,” went down pretty hard by a 55-45 margin. Guess who was a very prominent promoter of the initiative in the Mississippi legislature? One Chris McDaniel.

Best I can tell, Childers, although a pretty staunch anti-choicer in the House, didn’t back the Personhood initiative. So there is a potential wedge there, one that may not turn that many votes but could help brand McDaniels as an extremist. And there’s no telling what McDaniel might say when challenged on this issue. He’s sure more than capable of matching or exceeding Mourdock’s crazy-sounding comments on rape exceptions, because his own position is even crazier, and leaves him vulnerable to the accusation that he’d like to ban IUDs, Plan B contraceptives, and maybe even The Pill.

So while McDaniel would enter a general election contest against Childers quite solidly favored, he’s capable of blowing the race simply by standing on his stated principles. And Lord only knows what some serious oppo research might turn up under the various rocks of Mississippi ultra-conservatism. Maybe Cochran’s campaign’s already looked, but then it wasn’t really focused on the general electorate, which even in Mississippi is a different beast.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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