OLIVE BRANCH, Miss. — Chris McDaniel is running to be America’s senator.
The insurgent state legislator is challenging longtime incumbent Sen. Thad Cochran in Mississippi's June 3 Republican primary. But this competitive contest and the voter unease that is driving it has little to do with parochial Magnolia State issues: Mississippi is governed, almost top to bottom, by stalwart conservative Republicans. Rather it is anxiety about the state of the nation -- anger at Washington, fear of a burgeoning national debt and opposition to Obamacare.
McDaniel is pledging change and vowing bluntly that a vote for him is another vote for the agendas of GOP Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas, Mike Lee of Utah and Rand Paul of Kentucky. During a rousing stump speech Thursday in this suburban Memphis, Tenn., community in bellwether DeSoto County, McDaniel told an enthusiastic gathering of about 75 supporters that as Mississippi Republicans, they are uniquely positioned to spark a conservative revival across the U.S.
All it takes, he said, is ousting Cochran on Primary Day. “You can't lead a conservative resurgence from Maine; you can't lead a conservative resurgence from Massachusetts or California. But by George you can lead one from Mississippi,” McDaniel said, to applause.
In an interview with the Washington Examiner just prior to delivering his remarks, he discussed the race and what kind of senator he would be if elected. Public polling of the Cochran-McDaniel race has been thin, but both sides say privately it’s a competitive contest that could go either way.
Washington Examiner: What’s your assessment of the race?
McDaniel: We have the momentum right now. We are surging right now. On June the 3rd, I believe we're going to win the race. Mississippians understand that Washington has to be changed. They understand, likewise, that we can't change Washington until we change who we send to represent us. Sen. Cochran's been in office since 1973 in one capacity or another. Richard Nixon was our president in 1973.
Examiner: Why do you believe this race is competitive?
McDaniel: Sen. Cochran has never been a Reagan conservative. He has demonstrated over the years to be moderate, if not liberal, on most issues. That includes social policy, foreign policy and fiscal policy. What makes it different now, after so many years, due largely to the invention of social media and the Internet, Mississippians can now peer behind the veil and see precisely how he has been voting. Not only the way he's been voting, but the way the D.C. establishment has treated the country as a whole. It appears that many of those men and women have created a wonderful aristocracy whereby they insulate themselves from our popular will.
Examiner: What is your position on the federal government providing Mississippi federal funds to recover from a natural disaster or weather event?
McDaniel: I support that. I support that and I’ve been very clear on that.
Examiner: Your critics say you’ve flip-flopped on this issue and are trying to have it both ways. In one interview, you were attributed as opposing federal disaster aid.
McDaniel: It was a manufactured dust-up. If you’ll listen to that interview, it was a 20-minute interview and they were able to take about 1.2 seconds out of context.
Examiner: Do you support federal disaster aid, and would you require spending cuts to offset the amount of aid appropriated?
McDaniel: We need disaster aid from time to time, particularly for national tragedies like [Hurricane] Katrina. … I think offsets are important in any increased federal expenditures in light of our current financial situation. I think that's a responsibility we have. But the reason the question is difficult to answer -- it would depend on the magnitude of the disaster. Does that make sense? If it's a relatively small disaster, the offset is not an issue at all. There should be more than enough cuts we can find to offset that additional expenditure. If the disaster is once-in-a-lifetime, then it may be difficult to find those offsets.
Examiner: How important have the outside groups and their advertising been to your campaign prospects?
McDaniel: It is helpful, there’s no question about that. These groups are conservatives and we share a vision for this country. … We hear people refer to them as outside groups, but they share Mississippi philosophies. … The system, as you know, is always tilted in favor of incumbents. They’re able to raise incredible amounts of money, they’re able to exert incredible amounts of influence. It’s nice to see others come into these races and offset some of that influence just enough to give us a good fighting chance. I very much appreciate their entry.
Examiner: The assumption is that you’re going to vote however Sen. Cruz votes, or however the outside groups want you to vote. If you’re elected, what kind of senator will voters get?
McDaniel: My allegiance is to the Constitution, first; to the people, second. But to the extent that our inquiry into these issues begin and end with our Constitution, the chances are that Mike Lee and Ted Cruz and Rand Paul and I will come down on the same side of the issue a great majority of the time, because they’re constitutionalists and originalists just as I am a constitutionalist and an originalist.