Mississippi ranks first on my personal lists of States In Which I Never Plan To Set Foot, and among the many reasons ("I'm black" being first) is because I cannot imagine a more frustrating exercise than being a Democrat in a state so thoroughly controlled by white Republicans.
It's through this prism that I've been watching the debacle of Thad Cochran, one of the longest serving, and possibly least impressive Senators in the Senate. Cochran was elected in 1978, having been the second Republican elected to the House since Reconstruction (and elected at the same time as his eventual colleague Trent Lott). Cochran was handpicked by his predecessor James Eastland, one of the legendary Democrats from the South who opposed, you know, everything having to do with Civil Rights in the fifties and sixties. Eastland was also one of the longest serving Senators, meaning that for 80 years - and most of the twentieth century - Mississippi has been represented by Eastland and Cochran (and Lott, preeded by similarly long serving John Stennis).
Cochran is going for his seventh term, which is testament to his remarkable ability to fly under the radar of prominence, because most people with 35 years experience and major seniority, you know, you kind of know who they are. No one particularly knows Cochran or where he stands, and mostly, he's won reelection after reelection the old fashioned way, by being a champion of spectacular amounts of federal largesse to Mississippi, which is 3 for 1 in getting more tax money than its residents pay in (possibly because most of them are really poor), and generally 48th-50th in state rankings of positive things, like, you know, poverty or literacy or high school graduations.
It would be nice - and/or remarkable - if Cochran's reelection was in trouble because someone wanted to change those dismal realities, but Cochran's in trouble mostly because he's about the last dinosaur of the GOP who hasn't died, retired or faced a Tea Party opponent. Until now. Chris McDaniel is a former radio talk show host (most of them are) who has taken Cochran to task for being to much a product of Washington, too driven by pork barrel politics, and not especially interested in the extremes of conservative politics espoused by, say, Ted Cruz.
The race got really ugly and weird when McDaniel's side, which had been whispering for months about Cochran's living arrangements in DC with a woman on his staff in her apartment, took things a step further. A blogger supportive of McDanel broke into a nursing home in Jackson and took video of Cochran's elderly, bed-ridden wife, who is in late stage dementia and hospice care. That's the ugly part.
The weird part is that it seems to have helped McDaniel pull within shouting distance of a win.
In a world where most of us would be shocked and appalled by behavior such as filming and elderly woman in an especially vulnerable and intimate setting, it's a good indication of just where conservatives are morally and politically that McDaniel was still able to make an issue out of Cochran's behavior as a spouse. The right may grimly disdain Democrats as "anything goes" loose living hedonists, but it takes a special kind of judginess to kill an elderly man's career because he appears to have a companion during the difficult final days of his wife's life. Sure, McDaniel's overall exploitation of a relatively ageist line about Cochran being too old and something of a hack also appeals to conservatives, but nearly 50% of voters, knowing that several people from McDaniel's supporters had some role in the video escapade didn't deter them one bit. Rewarding McDaniel - who claims no knowledge of or tolerance for the incident - for months of trying to make Cochran's private life yet another example of "not in line with conservative values" just seems bizarre.
If Cochran can prevail in the runoff that's now required, since neither candidate pulled over 50%, it's hard to see how he will lose in November. That's also kind of true for McDaniel, though he seems sightly more vulnerable to the actual Democrat in the race, Travis Childers, thought Childers is running because he was dumped from the House after redistricting for, well, the Republican who won the State Senate seat of Mississippi's now other Senator, Roger Wicker. Which is to say, Childers doesn't seem to have what it takes to beat Republicans, these days, in Mississippi.
Me, I'm pretty much where I was long before this year and this strange scandal that is about the only thing enlivening the Spring/Summer primary season - I'm just glad I don't live in MIssissippi. Having these choices as my choices would drive me mad. At least living in New Jersey gives you New York City just a bus ride away, and Corey Booker's at least a Democrat. Thirty six years of Thad Cochran!? Or the Ex Radio Host!? I may never get to sleep tonight just thinking about it.