In the last election cycle the senior Senator from Mississippi knew his time was up. He was un-energetic, had a dying wife in Mississippi while he lived in D.C., was having trouble during the campaign remembering things and places, and was living with another woman who also helped run his office.
He needed to step down for practical, moral and health issues. Alas, he didn’t. All senators have mini-fiefdoms and his (and his coterie of admirers) was too much to turn his back on.
And so, like dutiful soldiers (or lapdogs, given your preference) the state’s elected officials lined up to prop up the aging politician. The governor, the senator, the congressman from Rankin County…they did their campaign duty and made sure that their favorite senior that should be hanging up his cleats was still in the fight.
But then, a most unlikely turn of events - Mr. Cochran found himself on the losing end of an election, sort of. Actually, he was the runner-up in an election that should have easily been a slam-dunk. Hence, on to a run-off.
And how did Cochran’s team figure he might just be able to win? By appealing to blacks and other Democrats using race-baiting tactics. Incendiary flyers and questionable robocalls and who-knows-what-else were used to defeat Tea-party fav., state Sen. Chris McDaniel. Schemes used by the Democrats and despised by the GOP for decades were now being used against one of their own, and giddily so.
Cochran emerged the winner from that formidable dust-up, but in the amount of time that politically feels like the blink of an eye, he has turned and resigned as health issues that were a concern caught up to the senator.
And, alas, the GOP is now thrown into an avoidable tizzy. Republicans have been festering because McDaniel, in a land that hates sore losers, adequately played the role of sore loser. Instead of shoring up future prospects by bucking up with a hearty smile and shaking the hands of party leaders he got the governor and a goodly portion of his party to basically despise him.
Now, for the newly open U.S. Senate seat, Governor Bryant has appointed two-term state Agriculture Commissioner Cindy Hyde-Smith to fill Cochran's vacancy until the Nov. 6 special election. Interesting choice for Bryant as Hyde-Smith served for years in the state Senate as a Democrat before switching parties in 2010. She is known by exactly no one as being an ideological and instinctive conservative. One wonders if the governor did this only as others, perhaps several others, turned him down given the poisonous political climate of D.C. And now McDaniel has made the governor hopping mad by challenging his choice and throwing his hat into the ring. So at this point we have Republicans Hyde-Smith and McDaniel plus two Democrats: former U.S. Rep. (and former agriculture secretary in the Clinton administration), Mike Espy, along with two-term Tupelo Mayor Jason Shelton.
Here’s the risk to the Republicans who, before Cochran quit, couldn’t be beat in the Magnolia State. Democrat Espy and either Republican Hyde-Smith or McDaniel all get less than 50 percent of the vote, but Espy and one of the Republicans emerge as the two top vote-getters. A runoff occurs and the hatred among two Republican factions is so deep that many conservative voters become disgusted and cast their ballots for Espy, who ends up as the winner.
And, alas, the GOP gets what they deserve—a Democrat U.S. Congressman in a seemingly can’t-lose election for conservatives because, frankly, Republicans have lost their way. And maybe their soul.