EMILY WAGSTER PETTUS
JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Facing the political challenge of a lifetime, six-term Sen. Thad Cochran campaigned with leading figures of Mississippi’s Republican establishment and cast himself as a reliable opponent of President Barack Obama on Monday on the eve of a primary showdown with tea party-backed rival Chris McDaniel.
McDaniel made the final rounds of his campaign — and carried with him the hopes of tea party supporters nationwide eager to topple a high-profile Republican incumbent in this year’s primaries. In an interview between stops, he said he wants to “end cronyism in Washington, D.C,” said added he intends to “repeal Obamacare in its entirety” and will push for term limits and a constitutional balanced budget amendment.
Their race drew much of the attention among primaries across eight states on Tuesday. Nominations for the Senate are on the ballot in Alabama; Iowa; Montana; New Jersey; New Mexico and South Dakota as well as Mississippi in a year in which Republicans need to gain six seats to win a majority.
Gubernatorial primaries are taking place in Alabama, Iowa, New Mexico, South Dakota and California, where Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown is seeking a fourth term this fall.
House races drew plenty of outside interest from the political professionals, even if they gained scant attention nationwide.
Democrats face a distinctly uphill battle to win a House majority this fall, and they and their allies sought to knock out Republican contenders in primaries in California and New Jersey.
The House Majority PAC aired a television ad against Republican hopeful Doug Ose in California in an apparent attempt to help a more-conservative Igor Birman win a spot on the ballot. Seizing on votes cast in 2003, when he was in Congress, the ad said, “Doug Ose didn’t serve the troops — he just served himself.”
Ose has criticized the ad, but its mere existence was evidence that party officials believe Birman would present a weaker challenge to Democratic Rep. Ami Bera in the fall.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee paid for mailers aimed at influencing a second race in California, as well as a primary for a House seat in New Jersey that Republican Rep. Jon Runyan is vacating.
Several states held out the possibility of a second round of competition to pick nominees, including Iowa, where 5 Republicans are vying for the nomination to replace retiring Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin. The leader must gain at least 35 percent of the vote to avoid having the contest thrown to a state convention later this year.
State Sen. Joni Ernst, front-runner in the polls, campaigned with Florida Sen. Marco Rubio in hopes of winning the 35 percent necessary to win the nomination outright. Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley is unopposed for his party’s spot on the ballot in a race expected to draw plenty of national attention in the fall.
A 50 percent threshold is necessary to avoid a runoff in Mississippi’s brutal Senate Republican challenge, hardly a certainty in a race with a third candidate.
Cochran, 76, who has brought billions of federal dollars to his state, campaigned with Gov. Phil Bryant and Rep. Gregg Harper as he worked to fend off McDaniel’s challenge.
“President Obama has taken us down some wrong paths,” Cochran said. “But, starting tomorrow, we can get America back on the right path. And that starts with repealing Obamacare.”
Neither he nor Harper nor the governor mentioned McDaniel by name, but the references were hard to miss.
“Thad Cochran will never do anything to embarrass the state of Mississippi,” Harper said in an appearance at the Mississippi Agriculture and Forestry Museum in Jackson.
An independent group that supports Cochran, Mississippi Conservatives, mailed a card to thousands of voters recently saying McDaniel would embarrass the state. The card played a few seconds of a talk radio audio recording of McDaniel from a decade ago, in which he said he had heard the word “mamacita” was a good pickup line for Mexican women.
Even that didn’t touch on the main controversy of the race — the arrest of four men on charges they surreptitiously photographed Cochran’s wife in a nursing home where she has lived for more than a decade with dementia.
Cochran’s campaign seized on the arrests, airing a television commercial that said the four are McDaniel’s backers, and saying, “Rise up and say, ‘no’ to dirty politics.”
McDaniel has said he his campaign knew nothing of the incident until after it occurred.
He campaigned in heavily Republican areas of the state on Monday as he worked to succeed at a task tea party-backed challengers failed to pull off earlier this year in Texas, North Carolina and Kentucky — toppling a Senate candidate backed by the GOP establishment.
In a telephone interview, McDaniel said, “We have a conservative vision for Mississippi. We are going to Washington to fight for our values. We are going to do it in a bold and courageous manner.”
Associated Press writer Tom Beaumont in Iowa contributed to this report.
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