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Slimantics: Senate campaign: Sweet, but deadly

 

Slim Smith

 

 

Ask any dog owner and he will tell you to be careful where you keep the anti-freeze. 

 

Dogs love anti-freeze. If you put a squirrel next to a pan full of anti-freeze, the average dog wouldn't even give the squirrel a curious sniff: He'd pounce on the Prestone. 

 

Anti-freeze is sweet to the taste, but deadly to the body, not unlike Mississippi's upcoming U.S. Senate Republican Primary where our state's reputation is concerned. 

 

Wednesday in his hometown of Ellisville, state senator Chris McDaniel announced he will challenge incumbent Roger Wicker for his seat in the Senate in this summer's Republican Primary. 

 

McDaniel narrowly lost his challenge to the state's other Senator, Thad Cochran, in 2014. McDaniel almost beat Cochran in the primary, but fell just short of the majority needed to avoid a run-off. In that run-off, Cochran emerged the victor, aided by enough horrified Democratic cross-over votes to deny McDaniel the upset victory. The Republican run-off of 2014 was the best day Democrats have had at the polls in years, which tells you all you need to know about the state of the Democratic Party lately. 

 

Aside from the outcome, the 2014 race is memorable for the crudeness of McDaniel's campaign. A McDaniel-supporting blogger went to prison for taking photos of Cochran's invalid wife in a Jackson nursing home, a couple of McDaniel campaign workers were accidentally locked in a courthouse where primary ballots were being counted and McDaniel did not concede the election and, as far anybody knows, still hasn't. 

 

Who knows? Maybe he wants both Senate seats because McDaniel is back, well-armed with PAC money and itching for a fight. That's no exaggeration. McDaniel's Twitter account features his photo, along with a quote: "I'm looking for a Fight" -- Chris McDaniel. Clearly, this is going to get ugly. 

 

Long before McDaniel's official announcement, Wicker has been preparing for the challenge, piling up endorsements, including one from Donald Trump. He has also been steering hard, hard right on just about any subject that has come across his desk in the last few months. His strategy is obvious: Do not, under any circumstances, get outflanked on the right, even though for Wicker moving to the fringe right is a pretty short trip. Remember, this is the guy who was the lone "no" in a 98-1 vote on a Senate resolution stating that climate change is real -- not that man was responsible for climate change, mind you, but that climate change exists at all. 

 

You can't get any more blindly right-wing than that. 

 

Oh yeah? 

 

Forget "I'm Ready for a Fight." McDaniel's campaign motto ought to be "Hold My Beer." 

 

McDaniel is casting Wicker as liberal (seriously) and himself as the anti-establishment candidate. I don't know who will win, but I'll make one prediction: Both candidates will appeal to the worst instincts of voters with a hodgepodge of fear, paranoia and culture war demagoguery built on a blend of white nationalism, gun fetishes, dime-store patriotism, immigrant hate, gay hate and -- yippee -- the state flag, which McDaniel embraces without child-like zeal. That Wicker was among the first of Mississippi's elected officials to say the state should change its flag so it won't look like a souvenir from a KKK convention will be something the McDaniel camp will hit with drum-beat regularity. 

 

Normally, a candidate would push back on McDaniel's friendly relations with the Council of Conservative Citizens, a white nationalist group with direct ties to the old White Citizens Council, which was used in enforce Jim Crow rule in the state and The Citizens Militia of Mississippi, a fringe right group that regularly goes off in the woods to prepare for the inevitable attack from the government, which, I guess, greatly covets their double-wides. 

 

Trouble is, Wicker needs those voters as much as McDaniel.  

 

Normally, our congressional elections don't draw much attention outside the state. For others, it's like watching two alley cats mate: It's entertaining, but it doesn't matter much - except to the cats, of course. 

 

But with control of the Senate resting on the outcome of this year's races, the rest of the country will be paying attention to this debacle. 

 

Pity the poor economic developer who will be trying to recruit businesses to a state where, judging by this campaign, only the most hideous deformities of conservative thought prevail. 

 

To the extremist voters both candidates covet, the messages of this campaign will be sweet. 

 

But it will be poison for our state's reputation. 

 

The Great Anti-Freeze Campaign of 2018 has begun.

 

Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]

 

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