June 23, 2014 10:25:56 AM
GULFPORT -- U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran is telling supporters he will continue to ensure Mississippi's voice is heard in Washington if he's elected to a seventh term, while his Republican primary challenger, state Sen. Chris McDaniel, says Cochran has been in office too long and it's time for a more conservative advocate on Capitol Hill.
The two candidates held contrasting events Sunday on the Gulf Coast, an important area for GOP votes in Tuesday's primary runoff.
McDaniel, 41, spoke to about 200 people at a hot and muggy Tea Party Express rally in the parking lot of Hobby Lobby in Biloxi. Hours later, Cochran, 76, spoke to about 125 people in the air-conditioned concourse of Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport.
Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the 2008 Republican nominee for president, was supposed to speak at the Cochran event, but his commercial flight from Dallas to Gulfport was canceled. McCain is scheduled to campaign for Cochran early Monday in Jackson.
"We don't want any questions about recounts, all of the challenges that seem to have plagued elections in recent memory," Cochran said. "What we want is for everybody to be sure to go vote, to cast votes vote with your family members and your neighbors. That way, we're going to be assured of a good, solid, decisive election victory on election day. And I promise you this: I will do everything I can when I'm in Washington serving in the Senate to make you very proud you were part of my election."
Republican U.S. Rep. Steven Palazzo, whose district is in south Mississippi, said Cochran, as a top member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, secured billions of dollars of disaster relief for the state after Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005.
"Thad Cochran knew we didn't need just bottled water and blue tarps," Palazzo said.
McDaniel said he intends to defeat Cochran so he can work with other GOP senators elected with tea party support. He named Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas, Mike Lee of Utah and Rand Paul of Kentucky.
"Ladies and gentlemen, next time Ted Cruz stands on that floor, next time Mike Lee stands on that floor, next time Rand Paul stands on that floor to fight for you, a son of Mississippi will stand next to them," McDaniel said Sunday to whoops and applause from the crowd.
McDaniel finished 1,418 votes ahead of Cochran in a three-person Republican primary June 3, but nobody received a majority needed to win the nomination.
McDaniel said when he launched his campaign last fall, people told him it would be impossible to defeat a longtime incumbent, then as he gained momentum, people told him defeating Cochran was improbable.
"You know what they're saying now? It's unstoppable," said McDaniel, who wore blue jeans and an open-collar shirt on Sunday, a marked difference from his usual suit and tie.
Some in the crowd held yellow flags with the "Don't Tread on Me" logo, and they stood in front of a Tea Party Express bus emblazoned with large photos of McDaniel's face.
TV game show host Chuck Woolery, making his first visit to Mississippi, told the tea party crowd that he had chatted with McDaniel on the bus, he and sees the candidate as someone who will go to Washington and fight Democrats, particularly Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada.
"God knows we need Harry Reid out of there. We've had enough of crazy Harry," said Woolery, who hosted game shows such as "Love Connection" and "The Dating Game" and is now a prolific conservative on social media.
Lloyd Holston and his wife Sandra held signs at the McDaniel rally, calling for change in government.
"This government needs to balance its checkbook," said Holston, 56, a pharmacist from Hurley. "If I didn't balance mine, I would be living under the interstate."
At the Cochran event, teacher Jason Shows said Cochran supports public education funding. "He obviously has our best interests at heart," said Shows, 31. "It's important for someone with that type of seniority to help Mississippi."