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Former Mississippi U.S. Senator Thad Cochran dies at 81
Cochran, the state’s first Republican senator since Reconstruction, served 45 years in Congress
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
OXFORD, Mississippi (CFP) — Former U.S. Senator Thad Cochran, who became one of Mississippi’s most revered statesmen in a political career that spanned nine presidents, has died. He was 81.
Cochran died May 30 at a nursing home in Oxford. His death was announced by the office of his successor, U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith. His daughter, Kate, told the Washington Post that the cause of death was renal failure.
Cochran retired in April 2018 because of ongoing health issues that had kept him away from the Senate for several months.
A funeral service will be held Monday at 11 a.m. at the State Capitol in Jackson. A second service will follow Tuesday at the Northminster Baptist Church in Jackson at 11 a.m.
Tributes for the late senator began pouring upon news of his death.
U.S. Senator Roger Wicker, who sat alongside Cochran representing Mississippi for a decade, said he “was a giant in the United States Senate and one of the greatest champions Mississippi has ever known.”
“When Thad Cochran left the Senate, I was reminded of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, who wrote, ‘Lives of great men all remind us we can make our lives sublime, and departing leave behind us footprints on the sands of time,'” Wicker said. “Thad Cochran’s footprints are all around us
“Mississippi and our nation have lost a true statesman in Thad Cochran,” said Governor Phil Bryant. “He was a legend in the United States Senate where he worked tirelessly to move his state and country forward.”
President Donald Trump expressed condolences on Twitter: “Very sad to hear the news on the passing of my friend, Senator Thad Cochran. He was a real Senator with incredible values – even flew back to Senate from Mississippi for important Healthcare Vote when he was desperately ill. Thad never let our Country (or me) down!”
Cochran was born in 1937 in Pontotoc, a small town in the state’s northeast corner. After graduating from Ole Miss in 1959, he served two years in the Navy before returning home to finish law school and begin practicing law in Jackson.
His first foray into politics came in the 1968 presidential race, when he became state chairman for Richard Nixon’s campaign. At the time, the Republican Party was virtually non-existent in Mississippi, and segregationist George Wallace would bury Nixon. But four years later, Cochran would be elected to Congress on Nixon’s coattails as a Republican.
Cochran served three terms in the House before being elected to the Senate in 1978, becoming the first Republican since Reconstruction to represent the Magnolia State in the Senate.
During his time in the Senate, Cochran chaired both the agriculture and appropriations committees, positions that allowed him to funnel billions of dollars in federal money to projects back home, earning him the nickname “King of Pork.”
Cochran routinely won re-election without breaking a sweat until 2014, when he was challenged in the Republican primary by State Senator Chris McDaniel, who tried to rally Tea Party support to dislodge Cochran.
McDaniel forced Cochran into a primary runoff, which is when the good will and political capital the senator had banked during his long career paid off — he narrowly beat McDaniel after encouraging Democratic voters, including African Americans and farmers, to cross over and vote for him in the runoff.
That campaign became extremely contentious, particularly after a McDaniel supporter sneaked into a nursing home to shoot video of Cochran’s late wife, Rose, who was suffering from dementia, which was part of a gambit to accuse the senator of having an improper relationship with an aide.
The hard feelings remained in 2018, when McDaniel ran to succeed Cochran and the Republican establishment pulled out all the stops for Hyde-Smith, who beat McDaniel easily.
Rose Cochran died in 2014. In 2015, the senator married Kay Webber, a longtime aide.
Cochran is survived by his wife, two children and three grandchildren.
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Decision 18: Final U.S. Senate race will be decided in Mississippi Tuesday
Republican U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith tries to withstand controversies dogging her during the runoff with Democrat Mike Espy
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com
JACKSON, Mississippi (CFP) — In the three weeks since the first round of voting in Mississippi’s special U.S. Senate election, Republican Cindy Hyde-Smith has faced a barrage of negative headlines in the national media and apologized for making a joke about attending a public hanging.
And in a world where nothing on the internet ever goes away, a Facebook photo surfaced of Hyde-Smith — during a visit to the home of Jefferson Davis — wearing a Confederate cap, holding a rifle and calling the tableau “Mississippi history at its best.”
All of this was too much for Wal-Mart, which asked for its campaign contribution back.
But the question to be answered in Tuesday’s runoff is, will any of that be enough to allow her Democratic African-American opponent, Mike Espy, to defeat her in a bright red state where a Democrat hasn’t won a Senate race in 36 years?
Or to overcome very visible support from President Donald Trump, who is making visits to Tupelo and Biloxi on election eve to rally the base for Hyde-Smith?
Hyde-Smith is facing Espy in a special election to fill the remaining two years of the term of Republican Thad Cochran, the Mississippi icon who resigned in April due to ill health. She was appointed by Governor Phil Bryant to serve in the Senate temporarily until voters pick a permanent replacement in the special election.
Hyde-Smith, 59, from Brookhaven, was Mississippi’s agriculture commissioner until being appointed to the Senate. She was originally elected to the state Senate in 2000 as a Democrat but switched parties in 2010.
Espy, 64, from Jackson, served three terms in the U.S. House before being picked by President Bill Clinton as agriculture secretary in 1993. He resigned in 1994 amid allegations that he had received improper gifts. He was later acquitted of federal corruption charges.
During the first round of voting November 6, Hyde-Smith and Espy tied at 41 percent, with another Republican in the race, State Senator Chris McDaniel, coming in third.
Given the overwhelming Republican tilt of the Magnolia State, Hyde-Smith was seen as a prohibitive favorite in the runoff. Indeed, McDaniel, who nearly beat Cochran in 2014, was seen as the biggest hurdle to her continued tenure in the Senate.
However, a series of controversies that have dogged her since the first round of voting have given Democrats hope that they might replicate the success they had in Alabama in 2017, when Democrat Doug Jones defeated Republican Roy Moore amid allegations of sexual impropriety.
First, five days after the election, a video surfaced in which Hyde-Smith is heard telling a supporter that if he invited her to a public hanging, she would be in the front row. She insisted the remark was a joke, but her critics charged it was a racially insensitive remark to make in a state with a history of lynchings of African-Americans.
During their only campaign debate, Hyde-Smith apologized “to anyone who was offended by my comments,” insisting there was “no ill will” and that her record as senator and agriculture commissioner shows she harbors no racial animus.
“This comment was twisted, and it was turned into a weapon to be used against me — a political weapon used for nothing but personal, political gain by my opponent,” she said.
Another video surfaced November 15 in which Hyde-Smith says it would be a “great idea” to make it more difficult for liberals to vote, which her campaign insisted was a joke made to supporters and not advocacy of voter suppression.
Then a week before the runoff, news organizations began reporting a photo posted in 2014 on Hyde-Smith’s Facebook account, where she is donning a Confederate cap and carrying a rifle at Davis’s home in Biloxi.
The caption read: “I enjoyed my tour of Beauvoir. The Jefferson Davis Home and Presidential Library located in Biloxi. This is a must see. Currently on display are artifacts connected to the daily life of the Confederate Soldier including weapons. Mississippi history at its best!”
Her campaign did not offer any comment in the photo. But a spokeswoman pushed back hard when the Jackson Free Press reported that Hyde-Smith had attended a high school in the 1970s originally founded to allow white parents to avoid sending their children to segregated schools. The story included photos of a teenage Hyde-Smith posing with her cheerleading pom-poms.
“In their latest attempt to help Mike Espy, the gotcha liberal media has taken leave of their senses,” said spokeswoman Melissa Scallan. “They have stooped to a new low, attacking her entire family and trying to destroy her personally instead of focusing on the clear differences on the issues between Cindy Hyde-Smith and her far-left opponent.”
What won’t be clear until Tuesday is how much any of these controversies will affect the outcome of this race. Many white Mississippians of Hyde-Smith’s generation attended so-called “segregation academies” when they were young. And wearing a Confederate cap has a different connotation in a place where the state flag still contains the Confederate battle emblem than it does in media and political circles in Washington or New York.
Also, none of the controversies dogging Hyde-Smith comes anywhere close to the situation in Alabama, where Moore was accused of sexual misconduct with underage girls, which he denied.
Mississippi has the largest percentage of African-American residents of any state, 37 percent. So the result of the runoff will likely hinge on the turnout among African-American voters, who are expected to go Democratic in large numbers.
If African-Americans make up 30 percent of the electorate Tuesday, as they did in the first round of voting, Espy would need about a third of the white vote to get to a majority. If they make up 35 percent, he would need about a quarter of the white vote.
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Decision ’18: Democrats fail to make major breakthrough in the South
Republicans sweep U.S. Senate and governor’s races; Democrats make a net gain of at least 9 seats in the U.S. House
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com
(CFP) — The big, blue wave that Democrats hoped would carry them to a breakthrough in the South crashed into the Republican’s big, red wall in Tuesday’s midterm elections.
Republicans won the high-profile governor’s race in Florida and held a lead in Georgia, easily defended U.S. Senate seats in Texas and Tennessee and appear to have ousted Democratic U.S. Senator Bill Nelson in Florida.
The lone bright spot for Democrats in statewide races was in West Virginia, where U.S. Senator Joe Manchin held his seat.
Democrats did flip at least nine Republican-held U.S. House seats, ousting three incumbents in Virginia and winning a seat in South Carolina and another in Oklahoma that they had not won in more than 40 years. Three seats are still too close to call, with Republicans leading in two of them.
However, Republicans carried two-thirds of the 30 seats that Democrats had targeted across the region, including seven seats in Florida and Kentucky’s 6th District, where Democrat Amy McGrath failed to oust U.S. Rep. Andy Barr despite spending $7.8 million dollars.
Republicans won all nine of the governor’s races in the South, including Florida, where Republican former U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis defeated Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, and Georgia, where Republican Secretary of State Brian Kemp was leading former State Rep. Stacey Abrams by 60,000 votes with some mail-in ballots left to be counted.
Abrams has refused to concede.
“Votes remain to be counted. Voices waiting to be heard,” she told supporters early Wednesday morning. “We are going to make sure that every vote is counted because in a civilized nation, the machinery of democracy should work everywhere for everyone.”
Gillum and Abrams were hoping to become the first African-American governor in their respective states and end 20-year droughts in the governor’s office.
In addition to victories in Florida and Georgia, Republican governors were re-elected in Texas, Arkansas, Alabama and South Carolina, and GOP candidates kept open seats in Tennessee and Oklahoma.
Of the seven U.S. Southern Senate races, Republicans won four and the Democrats two, with one race in Mississippi heading to a November runoff, which amounts to a net gain of one seat for the GOP.
The most high-profile race was in Texas, where Democratic U.S. Senator Beto O’Rourke ran a spirited race to try to oust Republican U.S. Senator Ted Cruz. But in the end, Cruz won 51 percent of the vote to 48 percent for O’Rourke.
In Florida, Republican Governor Rick Scott defeated Nelson, who was trying for his fourth term. Scott’s win means that Florida will have two Republican senators for the first time in 100 years.
Republicans also defended a seat in Mississippi, where U.S. Senator Roger Wicker won easily, and in Tennessee, where Republican U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn defeated Democratic former Governor Phil Bredesen by an surprisingly large 55 percent to 44 percent margin.
In Virginia, Democratic U.S. Senator Tim Kaine won 57 percent to 41 percent for Republican Corey Stewart.
In a special election in Mississippi to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of former U.S. Senator Thad Cochran, Republican Cindy Hyde-Smith, Cochran’s temporary replacement in the Senate, advanced to a November 27 runoff against Democrat Mike Espy, a former congressman who served as agriculture secretary in the Clinton administration.
Hyde-Smith and Smith both came in at 41 percent,short of the majority they needed to avoid a runoff. Republican State Senator Chris McDaniel came in third at 17 percent.
In the U.S. House races, the most high-profile casualty was 11-term Republican U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, who lost his Dallas-area House seat to Colin Allred, an attorney and former NFL player.
Other Republican U.S. House losers were Dave Brat in the suburbs of Richmond; John Culberson in Houston; Barbara Comstock in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C.; Carols Curbelo in Miami; and Scott Taylor, in the Hampton Roads area of southeastern Virginia.
In Miami, Democrat Donna Shalala, who served as health secretary in Bill Clinton’s administration, won an open seat that had been held for 30 years by retiring U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.
Two of the night’s biggest surprises came in Oklahoma City, where Republican Steve Russell was defeated by Democratic newcomer Kendra Horn, and in the Low Country of South Carolina, Democrat Joe Cunningham held a slender lead over Republican State Rep. Katie Arrington, who had ousted the incumbent, U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford, in the Republican primary.
Republican incumbent Rob Woodall led by 4,000 votes in the Atlanta suburbs, and in the Charlotte area, Republican Mark Harris held a small lead over Democrat Dan McCready.
The news was not as good for Karen Handel in suburban Atlanta, who trailed her Democratic challenger, Lucy McBath, by 2,100 votes after all of the precincts had reported.
Handel won that seat just last year in a special election that became the most expensive House race in U.S. history, in which more than $50 million was spent.
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Election Preview: Four Southern U.S. Senate races are key in battle for control
Republicans are defending seats in Texas and Tennessee; Democrats in Florida and West Virginia
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
(CFP) — With the balance of power in the U.S. Senate hanging in the balance, voters in four Southern states will decide hotly contested races in Tuesday’s midterm elections.
Republicans are defending seats in Texas and Tennessee that have turned out to be much more competitive than expected in two very Republican states. Meanwhile, Democratic incumbents are defending turf in Florida and West Virginia, states which President Donald Trump carried in 2016.
Another Senate seat is up in Virginia, where Democratic U.S. Senator Tim Kaine is favored to win re-election. Both seats are up this year in Mississippi, and Republican candidates are favored to hold both.
In Texas, Republican U.S. Senator Ted Cruz is seeking a second term against Democratic U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, a race in which the challenger has sparked the imagination of Democratic activists around the country.
Cruz, who came in second to Trump in the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, was heavily favored for re-election at the beginning of 2018. But O’Rourke — trying to take advantage of a changing political electorate in fast-growing Texas, including more younger and Latino voters — has made the race competitive, even though Texas hasn’t elected a Democrat to the Senate in 30 years.
O’Rouke has raised more than $70 million for the race, the largest haul of any Senate candidate this cycle, according to Federal Election Commission records. Cruz has raised $40 million.
Despite Cruz’s often contentious relationship with Trump during the 2016 presidential primaries, which famously included Trump dubbing him “Lyin’ Ted,” the president has gone all out for Cruz in this race, even traveling to Houston for a campaign rally.
In Tennessee, Republican U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn is vying with former Democratic Governor Phil Bredesen for a seat which opened after the retirement of U.S. Senator Bob Corker, one of Trump’s strongest critics in Congress.
After first rebuffing calls for him to run after Corker announced he was leaving the Senate, Bredesen changed course last December and jumped into the race, giving Volunteer State Democrats a shot at capturing the seat behind the candidacy of a popular two-term moderate.
But Blackburn has fought back by trying to tie Bredesen to national Democratic leaders who are unpopular in Tennessee, in particular Hillary Clinton and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York.
Republicans currently have a slim one-vote majority in the Senate. However, because Democrats are defending more seats this cycle than Republicans, it is unlikely they can capture a Senate majority — and depose Kentucky’s Mitch McConnell as Senate majority leader — without winning in either Texas and Tennessee.
In Florida, Democratic U.S. Senator Bill Nelson is facing off against Republican Governor Rick Scott, who has served as the Sunshine State’s chief executive for the past eight years.
Nelson, who first arrived in Congress during the Carter administration, is a proven vote-getter seeking his fourth term. Scott’s two wins for governor were narrow, although his approval ratings have ticked up during the final year of his administration.
Florida is more evenly divided than either Texas or Tennessee, generally sending one senator from each party to Washington since the 1980s. Trump’s win in Florida in 2016 was by a single point, compared to a 9-point win in Texas and a 26-point win in Tennessee.
In West Virginia, Democratic U.S. Senator Joe Manchin was seen as particularly vulnerable given Trump’s 40-point win in the Mountaineer State. But Machin kept himself in contention by avoiding criticism of the president and supporting him on a number of high-profile issues, including both of Trump’s Supreme Court picks.
Manchin may have also benefited from the Republicans’ selection of a standard-bearer — State Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, who grew up in New Jersey, has only lived in West Virginia since 2006 and spent nearly a decade as a Washington lobbyist.
The folksy Manchin, a West Virginia native who served as governor before being elected to the Senate, has made much of that contrast. Morrisey has responded much the way Blackburn has in Tennessee — by trying to tie the incumbent to liberal establishment Democrats.
In Mississippi, both Senate seats are up this year due to the retirement of former U.S. Senator Thad Cochran. One race is a special election to fill the remainder of Cochran’s term; the other is for the seat occupied by Republican U.S. Senator Roger Wicker.
While Wicker is heavily favored over his Democratic challenger, State House Minority Leader David Baria, the special election features a three-way race in which candidates from all parties will compete and a runoff held between the top two vote-getters if no one captures a majority.
The special election is a three-way contest between Republican U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith, Cochran’s temporary replacement; Republican State Senator Chris McDaniel, who lost a bitter primary against Cochran in 2014; and Democrat Mike Espy, a former congressman who served as secretary of agriculture in the Clinton administration.
Depending on how evenly the Republican vote is divided, the top GOP candidate could face Espy in a November 27 runoff. But polls have showed Hyde-Smith with a wide lead over McDaniel, which could be enough for her to win the seat outright on Tuesday.
Although McDaniel was a vocal supporter of Trump in 2016, the president snubbed McDaniel and endorsed Hyde-Smith, who had been a Democrat until 2010. McDaniel has charged that Trump was “forced” into making the endorsement by Senate Republican leaders.
In Virginia, Kaine is facing Corey Stewart, chairman of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors, who served as Trump’s Virginia coordinator in 2016.
When he kicked off his campaign in July 2017, Stewart vowed to “run the most vicious, ruthless campaign” that he could against Kaine. However, public polling in the race has shown that strategy has failed to gain traction, and Kaine enjoys a wide lead.
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Mississippi Runoff: Michael Guest wins GOP nomination for open in U.S. House District
State House Minority Leader David Baria will face U.S. Senator Roger Wicker in the fall
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
JACKSON, Mississippi (CFP) — Republicans in Mississippi’s 3rd U.S. House District have chosen prosecutor Michael Guest as their party’s nominee, making him the favorite to become the newest member of the state’s congressional delegation.
Guest, the chief prosecutor for the judicial district that includes Madison and Rankin counties, took 65 percent in the June 26 runoff to defeat Whit Hughes, a hospital executive and aide to former Governor Haley Barbour, who took 35 percent.
Guest will now take on Democratic State Rep. Michael Ted Evans of Preston in the district, which stretches across southern Mississippi from Natchez to Meridian and also includes the northern Jackson suburbs. The seat is being vacated by U.S. Rep. Gregg Harper, who is retiring after five terms.
Guest will be favored in the heavily Republican district, which has been in GOP hands since 1997.
The other major race on the runoff ballot in Mississippi was the Democratic contest for U.S. Senate, where State House Minority Leader David Baria from Bay St. Louis defeated Howard Sherman, a venture capitalist from Meridian who is married to actress and Meridian native Sela Ward.
Baria took 59 percent to 41 percent for Sherman.
Wicker, elected to the Senate in 2008, is considered to be a heavy favorite for re-election in a state where Democrats haven’t won a Senate race since 1982.
The Magnolia State’s other Senate seat is also open, after the retirement of Thad Cochran earlier this year. It will be filled in an all-party special election in November that features Republican U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith, who was appointed as a temporary replacement for Cochran; GOP State Senator Chris McDaniel, who ran unsuccessfully to unseat Cochran in 2014; and former Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Espy, who served as agriculture secretary in the Clinton administration.
McDaniel had initially filed to run against Wicker in the primary but switched to the other race after Hyde-Smith was appointed to Cochran’s seat.