There’s vast speculation throughout Mississippi’s political world on the future of Senator Chris McDaniel: Will he run for higher office or won’t he? If he does, what office will he seek? US Senator or Lt. Governor? All eyes seem to be on the man from Ellisville.
But why are political watchers not more focused on Senator Roger Wicker? Whether idle speculation or the desire to see another barnburner campaign, many pundits have placed a target on the junior Senator’s back.
Even with battle lines being set, many of Wicker’s most ardent Establishment backers continue to place his seat in the “untouchable” realm for a variety of reasons – fundraising prowess, top-notch organization, his work on behalf of Senate Republicans in 2016 as well as his support for the people back home in Mississippi. Recall that this was the exact same line used by the Establishment in reference to Cochran’s seat in 2013. In fact, politicos in Mississippi called Ole Thad the most “unbeatable” politician in the nation.
Wicker, though, is vulnerable and he knows it. How can I say that with any degree of confidence? Because Wicker’s actions look like those of a man who is worried. Let’s look at what he’s been up to in just the last few weeks.
First, polling. If Wicker’s seat is safe, why in the world would he be running polls against McDaniel, uh, I mean a “hypothetical” candidate? Wicker and his team were quick to announce two new polls that gave him a 25-point lead over his likeliest of opponents.
But if these polls are anything like those put out by the Cochran camp in 2014, they are dubious to say the least. Just weeks before the primary vote on June 3, 2014, Thad’s team put out survey results that gave him huge leads over McDaniel, one of which showed a gap of 24 points.
Yet those polls were top-heavy in favor of North Mississippi, while surveying no one in the Pine Belt, McDaniel’s stronghold. The result? Cochran lost to McDaniel on June 3. So the polls were a fib, designed only to influence public opinion and sway voters.
In the runoff three weeks later, according to a PPP poll, McDaniel defeated Cochran by a margin of 56 to 44 among Republicans. But Obama voters, which accounted for 19 percent of the runoff electorate, supported Cochran by a margin of 83 to 17. And even though only 10 percent of voters in the runoff were African American, their heavy support of Cochran, 77 to 23 percent, was more than enough to put him over the top.
And keep in mind, also, that at this stage in 2013, well before McDaniel got into the race, polling put Cochran up by 45 points! So even if Wicker’s polls are accurate, McDaniel is already closer to him than he was to Cochran, and without a dime of money yet thrown at Wicker.
The recent Wicker polls also showed Mississippi’s junior Senator with a lead in the favorability/unfavorability category. Wicker’s numbers were 66/15 and McDaniel’s 36/13. That seems to greatly favor Wicker but let’s analyze it a little further.
McDaniel’s numbers give him a +23 in favorability, which is extraordinary when you consider the Cochran camp, in 2014, spent more than $8 million in negative advertising ads, trashing McDaniel for months on end. They tried to make him look like Nixon at best and Satan at worst. But despite the smear campaign, only 13 percent of voters had an unfavorable opinion of him.
And consider another aspect of McDaniel’s numbers: 51 percent had no opinion, meaning the $8 million had no effect on them. That is a large number of folks whose thoughts on the matter could go either way. In short, the Establishment’s effort to destroy McDaniel’s reputation fell flat and Wicker’s own polling proves it.
But if, or when, Wicker faces a formidable conservative opponent, someone who will continuously point out his less-than-stellar record on spending, debt, and other major issues, not to mention his very unpopular stance on the state flag, Wicker’s numbers, like Cochran’s, will tumble badly, evidenced by his dismal rating with Conservative Review, a failing grade of 30.
Second, fundraising. If Wicker is so safe in the cash department, why is he hosting big-name fundraisers to raise more money? It was revealed recently that Wicker has scheduled a lavish fundraiser in Jackson with former President George W. Bush. The top-level ticket for the event is $20,800! Even the cheapest entry went for nearly $3,000. This is far out of the price range of working class folks in Mississippi.
Making matters worse, Wicker has refused to host a townhall event with the people of Mississippi. That’s despicable on its face! Yet he chooses to rub elbows with a former President, who doubled the national debt in 8 years, for the purpose of raising large sums of campaign cash.
This cuts quite the contrast to Senator Chris McDaniel, who has never attended high-priced fundraisers with party bigwigs while ducking townhall meetings with his constituents.
And third, publicity. Wicker is currently on a media blitz campaign to showcase his work on behalf of the state and his plans for future policy. Part of the operation is weekly columns on various issues. This is something brand new and only began when he heard McDaniel’s footsteps behind him. But don’t be fooled. This is what Establishment types do. It’s campaign conservatism, not real, authentic conservative reforms to Mississippi families.
These three reasons show with little doubt that Senator Roger Wicker is definitely getting nervous about his political future. He saw what happened to Thad Cochran and he knows that if he were to face a formidable opponent, with his vulnerabilities and an angry electorate, he may find himself in the unemployment line and that’s an unacceptable casualty for the Establishment.