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Mississippi College

U.S. Senate Runoff Fuels Debate at Mississippi College

June 4, 2014

With Republicans Thad Cochran and Chris McDaniel to slug it out a few more weeks in a U.S. Senate runoff, the debate got pretty lively in a Mississippi College classroom.

Less than 24 hours after the polls closed Tuesday in Mississippi, the bruising battle between Sen. Cochran and McDaniel, a conservative state senator from Ellisville, sparked discussions in the Southern politics class on the Clinton campus.

“It appears that McDaniel is the candidate with momentum,” says MC political science professor Glenn Antizzo, who moderated the students’ conversations Wednesday in his Jennings Hall classroom.

“McDaniel has used his position as a state senator to become the darling of the TEA Party movement here in Mississippi,” he said. “McDaniel appears to have tapped into a vein of discontent with Establishment Republicans.”

Mississippi voters on Tuesday were clearly split with close to 49 percent going to each candidate in a tight race that kept TV viewers in the Magnolia State up late. To sidestep a runoff, a candidate must receive more than 50 percent.

Cochran, who is seeking a seventh term in the Senate, “may have become a victim of his own success,” Antizzo said. “There is strong anti-incumbent sentiment that has made him vulnerable.”

While Cochran continues his heavy blitz of expensive ads keeping him in the public eye, the longtime senator has “largely been invisible” on the campaign trail, from south of Memphis to the Gulf Coast, he said.

Extensive coverage on TV news shows from CNN to Fox News has put the Mississippi race in the national spotlight. Locally, Antizzo is fielding requests for interviews Wednesday with Jackson TV stations.

A native New Yorker and Cornell University graduate who’s penned a few books on international issues, Antizzo feels at home discussing the political war brewing in Mississippi. His students are pretty opinionated, too.

While Senator Cochran is an historic figure in Mississippi politics with his first Senate victory in 1978, several of Antizzo’s students noted they weren’t born when the 76-year-old was first elected. “This has led some to raise age as an issue. Is Cochran just too old to serve Mississippi effectively?”

With Mississippi’s GOP primary race rated the nastiest in the nation by “The Washington Post,” Antizzo says there’s a chance some voters will go with former Democratic congressman Travis Childers in the November general election. There hasn’t been a Democratic senator in Mississippi since Sen. John Stennis retired in 1989.

“The specter of a split in the Republican ranks, has given the Democrats hope that they could, for the first time in decades, have one of their own representing the Magnolia State in the U.S. Senate,” Antizzo said.

As voters gear up for the runoff, Cochran would be well served to reach out to independents and Democrats who didn’t vote in Tuesday’s GOP primary, he said.

But McDaniel, who is getting strong support from GOP heavyweights like Sarah Palin and Rick Santorum, won’t be easy to beat, the professor said. “McDaniel is clearly fired up.”

McDaniel’s campaign took a late blow when one of his supporters was accused of taking photos of Cochran’s bed-ridden wife in a Ridgeland nursing home and producing a political hit piece video, observers say.

The MC political science chairman believes thousands of Mississippians will continue to see hard-hitting TV ads from both sides through the June 24 runoff. “The ads are not going away.”

For more information, contact Glenn Antizzo at 601-925-3973 or antizzo@mc.edu.

Photo: Signs for U.S. Senator Thad Cochran, and challenger Chris McDaniel were among those spotted outside a Pearl voting precinct on election day, June 3.