Earlier this year, Mississippi voters witnessed perhaps their most contentious statewide Republican primary election in decades for the party’s U.S. Senate seat nomination – the seat six-term incumbent Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) currently occupies.
Cochran ultimately prevailed over so-called Tea Party hopeful State Sen. Chris McDaniel in a runoff contest in which Cochran was able to rally unlikely traditional Democratic voters from the Mississippi’s African-American community.
The sides consisted of the long-time powerbrokers in Mississippi Republican politics led by former Republican Gov. Haley Barbour, whose surrogates waged dirty but effective behind-the-scenes warfare to tarnish the reputation of McDaniel in the eyes of black voters.
The outcome was a narrow victory for Cochran, but a victory that came at the cost of a bitterly divided Republican constituency, all the way from the outskirts of Memphis in the northwest corner of the state down to the Ingalls shipyard in Pascagoula in the very southeast.
Cochran will face former Rep. Travis Childers, the Democratic nominee for the seat in a month and the contest isn’t expected to be close. The Real Clear Politics average gives Cochran a 14-point advantage with what little polling has been done to gauge the match-up.
Last week however, Childers added a new variable to the equation that may bolster his chances.
Childers became the first Democrat seeking national office to sign so-called Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) pledge, an anti-amnesty that binds candidates to oppose legislation granting additional work permits or expand the number of new immigrants and temporary workers into the United States.
It’s a pledge that has been often bandied about by conservatives, akin to the anti-taxation Americans for Tax Reform pledge championed by Grover Norquist.
The pledge has risen to prominence in this election cycle especially as a result of rhetoric from both parties in Congress and the White House arguing for comprehensive immigration reform. Conservatives have been reluctant to embrace an immigration reform measure by the federal government going back to the 1986 Simpson-Mazzoli Act, which promised border enforcement for the exchange of granting amnesty to three million immigrants in the United States illegally.
The border enforcement measures of the legislation were never funded, thus breaking the border enforcement promise and that has changed the electorate in some states, including California, to a more Democratic-friendly one.
Conservatives fear new measures will have an even greater similar outcome and that could change the governing philosophy of the country on a much grander scale.
Childers, at least publicly, is portraying his decision to cast his lot with the anti-amnesty movement as a populist gesture.
“This is not aimed at anybody,” Childers told the Jackson Clarion-Ledger. “Congress has kicked this can down the road. Washington tries to make this a partisan issue. This is an American issue … We have laws on the books [on immigration]. If we are not going to follow that set of laws, what others are we not going to follow?”
The Mississippi Democratic U.S. Senate hopeful’s move will make for interesting bedfellows.
McDaniel voters, still bitter about the summer’s primary outcome, weren’t likely to go out of their way to vote for either candidate in the general. But this could give them a motivation to show up first to vote on a single issue that Ann Coulter and other conservative opinion makers deem to be the most important issue for Republicans and secondly to register a protest against Cochran, who they feel won the primary runoff contest unfairly – with race-baiting advertisements aimed at traditional Democratic Party voters.
Couple that element, assuming the so-called FAIR pledge is enough to get them out on Election Day, with Mississippi traditional Democratic voters, a state in which Barack Obama took 43 percent of the vote, Cochran could have cause for concern. In a low-turnout election with these two unique voting blocs aligned, Cochran likely won’t be able take victory for granted.
Overcoming a double-digit hurdle will be difficult for Childers, but if we’ve learned anything this election cycle, immigration is the one issue that can ruin a candidacy. Ask former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who lost his race to another Tea Party upstart named Dave Brat, who came out of nowhere running on a single issue.
In Alabama, the issue of immigration has not been a divisive one among Republican lawmakers. Sen. Jeff Sessions, arguably the most-bulletproof politician in Alabama since George Wallace, has made opposing immigration his central cause, which has paid dividends both statewide and nationally. His efforts have helped keep the Alabama delegation hawkish on the issue.
His colleague Sen. Richard Shelby talks a good game on immigration and to his credit, has the voting record to back it up.
Alabama’s GOP is hardly lily white right now, if you take into consideration everything including embattled House Speaker Mike Hubbard’s hints and rumors of ethics violations and wrongdoing and in-fighting between the various elements fighting for control of a party apparatus controlled by Bill Armistead, but that’s nothing compared to what’s going on within the ruling class in Mississippi.
One more reason of hundreds that it could be worse – at least Alabama isn’t Mississippi.