Anyone who has spent time south of the Mason Dixon line, especially in the Deep South, knows that an order of iced tea at Three Sisters in Jackson, Mississippi means one laced with a heavy dose of sugar. However, Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Mississippi, is most likely going to get a gallon of tart, unsweet tea poured on him if Tea Party favorite and State Senator Chris McDaniel defeats him on Tuesday, as most pundits predict.
Similar to Republican Majority Leader Eric Cantor's stunning defeat at the hands of an unknown tea party college professor, few saw Cochran's defeat coming six months ago. Heck, most people didn't see it coming six weeks ago. And while the mainstream D.C.–based media heavyweights were caught flat-footed by Cantor's undoing, they are already predicting Cochran's swan song speech.
Here's why Cochran's Tuesday won't go his way:
Thad Cochran is out of touch with most Mississippians.
I spend the majority of my time in Tennessee about 10 miles from the Mississippi state line, so I see a lot of political ads aimed at the conservative political base of Northern Mississippi. More importantly, I hear from friends who are engaged with both campaigns. One friend who is connected with the Cochran campaign offered the following observation.
"I've known Thad all of my political life. He's done more for Mississippi than most can conceive, but the grassroots don't care because they are so tired of the gridlock in Washington," my friend said on the condition of anonymity. "Two days before the primary Thad was at an elementary school during a campaign stop. Instead of talking to the parents in the carpool line about what concerns them, all he wanted to do was gather the kids around the flagpole for a photo. He doesn't get and it's sad."
Thad Cochran is out of touch with Congress.
That doesn't mean Cochran is not connected with the Beltway crowd in Washington. In fact it's his life. It also doesn't mean Cochran's staff isn't connected to Congress. If the truth were known they could most likely run his office without his presence, especially if they could cast votes for him in committee and on the Senate floor.
Why do I say Cochran is out of touch with Congress? He had no clue that Eric Cantor had been defeated. As a former legislator, I was intimately involved in our caucus elections and how my colleagues in both chambers were fairing at the polls. Cochran is clueless. The reason he's not paying attention is, in part, due to his mental incompetence and the fact that he's been in Washington so long it doesn't matter to him who wins or loses. Besides, Cantor was in the House and most senators believe the lower chamber is just that - beneath them.
There are not enough Haley Barbour's and Brett Favre's to make a difference at this point.
Like a hearty glass of southern sweet tea on a hot summer day, former Gov. Haley Barbour and former professional football player Favre are extremely popular in Mississippi. But name ID and popularity aside, they are not enough to pull out a victory for Cochran. Now if Archie and Eli Manning were involved, that might be different.
Since departing the governor's mansion, Barbour spends most of his time counting votes and his growing brokerage account at his D.C.–based lobbying firm.
Yes, he organized the state's top GOP elected officials to rally around Cochran months ago, but that's not what the average voter cares about. They can still appreciate the fact that Gov. Phil Bryant and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves are doing well in their respective roles, but a Cochran candidacy gives them little to no hope that Washington will change and Chris McDaniel does.
It's not that McDaniel is not a good guy or a popular candidate; he just wasn't someone who would have been picked to take Cochran's place.
"I served alongside Chris in the legislature," an unnamed former legislator said. "He's a nice guy - a little squirrely - but a nice guy. If the top dogs were to make a list of the people they want to replace Thad, Chris would not have been in the top 50. Heck, he wouldn't have even been thought of but here he is, most likely the next U.S. Senator from Mississippi."
Cochran has his supporters, but they won't come out in the numbers needed in a special election.
No doubt about it, Cochran has lots of old guard, old-south blue blood friends who are loyal to him, but they won't come out in the numbers needed to win this election. They're OK with Cochran and have no problems with his state and Washington staff carrying the water for Mississippi, but they've got appointments, business lunches at the club and tee-times to worry about instead of a guy they've had their picture taken with a hundred times.
McDaniel's supporters are so close to victory they can taste it and they're making phone calls and knocking on thousands of doors today to make sure people who think like they do are going to vote tomorrow.
And if I were McDaniel, I wouldn't take too much time off the campaign trail because the Democrats know what sweet tea taste like, too, and they'll want their chance to celebrate in November.