OLIVE BRANCH, Miss. -- Thad Cochran or Chris McDaniel? The incumbent or the insurgent?
During Thursday’s monthly gathering of the DeSoto County Republican Women, the divisions separating the two camps were polite, and pleas to unify behind the GOP Senate nominee after the June 3 primary were universally and heartily applauded.
Still, the divisions were stark — and revealing, as partisans discussed their support for Cochran, the incumbent six-term senator, and McDaniel, the insurgent state senator who wants his job.
At least among this group of about 30 party regulars who showed up on a weekday morning for a discussion of politics and a buffet of homemade baked goods, the Cochran voters skewed older and expressed appreciation for the power and experience that comes with 40 years of Capitol Hill seniority. The McDaniel voters tended younger, saying they backed the challenger because they want a representative in Washington who will fight harder against liberalism.
“Cochran has the seniority; Cochran has voted against Obamacare, and we need strong Republican leadership in Washington, D.C., and he's experienced,” said Betty Farmer, 66, a retired transportation manager from Southaven. “I like Thad Cochran. I've always voted for him. He stands for what I believe.”
Ashleigh Parker, 42, an Olive Branch homemaker, plans to vote for McDaniel, as does her husband, David Parker, who serves with McDaniel in the state Senate. Parker said matter-of-factly that "McDaniel believes in the same things that I believe in; he's against the same things that I'm against, and I know that he'll fight for Mississippi.” Asked what Cochran might have done to avoid a primary challenge that appears to be the Tea Party's only opportunity to oust an incumbent Republican senator this year, Parker added:
“Standing up against Obamacare would have been nice, and fighting for that, because the majority of Mississippians are against Obamacare. … I think people from Mississippi, the people that are looking for something different, wanted a fight.”
Cochran consistently voted on the Senate floor to oppose, repeal, delay and weaken President Obama's Affordable Care Act. Yet Parker was hardly the only McDaniel supporter to tell the Washington Examiner in interviews Thursday that she remains dissatisfied with the politician considered a father of the modern Mississippi GOP.
How widespread that sentiment is in DeSoto County could determine the outcome of Mississippi's first competitive primary in decades to feature an incumbent candidate. The region is a fast-growing Memphis suburb, covered by the western Tennessee media market, where voters are more likely to be younger and more new to Mississippi -- and therefore less tied to the state's 76 year-old senior senator.
Brian Hodges, 40, a salesman from Olive Branch and a GOP activist, said that Cochran “has done a lot of great things.” But he added: “The biggest disappointment with Thad, personally, is that he reaches across the party line, and I’m not into a Republican being a moderate.”