Officials unite for Cochran
Local mayors among those endorsing Thad
Wednesday, June 11, 2014 1:00 PM
MADISON - Nearly every countywide elected official, including the mayors of Madison and Ridgeland, gathered in front of the red caboose here on Monday to rally for U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran, who is facing a June 24 run-off in the Republican primary in what has become the political fight of his life.
Madison Mayor Mary Hawkins-Butler and Ridgeland Mayor Gene McGee talk about the upcoming run-off after a photo op Tuesday.
The officials point to the hundreds of millions in federal funding for roads, sewage infrastructure, schools and law enforcement, among many, many other things Cochran has influenced, funding his challenger has labeled "pork" and pledged to eliminate.
Challenger Chris McDaniel's campaign did not respond to interview requests and declined to respond to questions about whether he planned to make any campaign stops in Madison County.
Madison Mayor Mary Hawkins-Butler was not waiting on anyone last week and took things into her own hands for her old friend Sen. Cochran, first elected to the U.S. Senate in 1978, she as mayor in 1981. Over the years the two have worked together on countless projects that have contributed to Madison's explosive growth, she said.
Cochran's razor-thin loss June 3 to McDaniel jolted many like Hawkins-Butler into action and shocked others, although Cochran carried Madison County with 60 percent of the vote.
Hawkins-Butler was on the phone Monday with other officials in key counties drumming up votes and giving assurances.
One Madison County elected official was starting up a phone bank operation to turn out the vote.
Another seasoned former campaigner took two weeks of vacation and was putting up Cochran signs in Madison County Tuesday between the rain storms.
"At least the ground is soft," he said, working with limited resources but a determined will.
Statewide, key counties were being organized with what political operatives call a ground game, where voters are contacted, something that had apparently gone undone.
By Tuesday evening, the Cochran campaign had produced a new television ad narrated by the senator and demonstrating what he's done for Mississippi.
This week, Cochran has been more visible around the state, including a stop in nearby Vicksburg.
In transportation alone, more than $380 million in federal road funding has come to Madison County since 1996 through Cochran's efforts, according to MDOT, including the Gluckstadt interchange, the I-55 widening and the Nissan interchanges.
The Madison County School District receives $8.1 million in federal funding, or 6.6% of the district's total revenue.
Statewide, Cochran's support for education funding has resulted in Mississippi receiving $800 million annually in K-12 funding, or about a fourth of the total budget.
Of the entire federal budget, transportation spending is 3 percent, education is 1 percent and all other discretionary spending 3 percent, accorting to the conservative thinktank the Heritage Foundation.
McDaniel told the Associated Press that state and local governments "could handle" the loss of one-fourth of the state K-12 budget.
Municipal and county leaders statewide were stepping up, effectively creating the network of supporters who can communicate with voters at the local level.
Many former seasoned campaign operatives were volunteering and by Monday initiatives were up and running from the Delta to the Coast.
Nowhere was that more apparent than in Madison County where the officials convened Monday for a group photo that is to appear in an advertising and materials in which they collectively endorse the six-term U.S. senator.
More than three quarters of the aldermen from the cities of Madison and Ridgeland joined Hawkins-Butler and Ridgeland Mayor Gene McGee and state Reps. Rita Martinson and Bill Denny for the photo, which was taken in front of the red caboose on Main Street.
All touted the same $380 million figure they say Cochran is responsible for bringing home for infrastructure improvements since 1996, which includes more than $19.7 million for the development of a sewage water master plan and additional improvements, completed in 2010, and another $13.5 million in appropriations from the Nissan Interchange on Interstate 55.
McGee said he's always considered Cochran an ally.
"Without Senator Cochran, we wouldn't have all the multi-use trails we have today," McGee said. "We wouldn't have the ability to widen Lake Harbour Drive and extend it to Highland Colony Parkway. In the county, we've received millions and millions of dollars, through his work, to help us put in sewer lines so that subdivisions could be developed.
"The list goes on and on and on, and I'll say this - In my 25 years as mayor, there's never been a time when I couldn't count on Sen. Cochran to support us."
Hawkins-Butler had similar sentiments when she sat down Tuesday to discuss the U.S. Senate race at Madison's City Hall.
"What I admire about Senator Cochran is that he is about doing business," she said. "He goes about his job in a very low-key and very quiet way, and he gets things done. He doesn't ask for fan-fare, and doesn't seek the spotlight or recognition. He is a true statesman and a national treasure."
In officially endorsing Cochran, the two mayors joined the ranks of several GOP leaders at the state level, including Gov. Phil Bryant, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, U.S. Senator Roger Wicker and Congressmen Gregg Harper and Alan Nunnelee, as well as State Auditor Stacey Pickering and Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann.
Hawkins-Butler and McGee both added that they hope Madison County Republicans will head to the polls in larger numbers for the runoff.
Cochran received 61.1 percent of the vote in Madison County in last week's primary - a landslide by any measure - but only 18,166 of a possible 81,609 voters (roughly 22.2 percent) of voters cast a ballot.
The electorate of the Ridgeland precinct that votes at the city's recreation center, for example, voted 62.85 percent for Cochran and 36 percent for McDaniel (567-329), but the 1,025 total votes accounted for less than 14 percent of the 7,375 possible voters.
McDaniel carried a few counties that also reported disappointing turnouts - such as DeSoto County, where just 15,691 voters out of a possible 94,340 went to the polls - but also carried a coalition of counties in southeast Mississippi that saw at least 20 percent of voters cast a ballot.
For his part, McDaniel has stepped up the number of appearances in more rural areas across the state. The Ellisville native made stops in Wiggins, Gautier and D'Iberville Monday, and appeared in Meridian and Forest for "meet and greets" with supporters on Tuesday.
McDaniel also, on Monday, picked up another endorsement from a nationally renowned conservative leader when former presidential hopeful and tea-party hero Ron Paul released a statement of his support.
"Chris McDaniel has been a fighter in the Mississippi Senate for smaller government and more personal liberties," Paul said in the statement. "We need Chris McDaniel in the U.S. Senate and I am proud to endorse his campaign." Paul's son, U.S. Rep. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky), another Tea Party favorite, has not endorsed either candidate.
Conservative commentator and Fox News Channel stalwart Sean Hannity also threw his hat in for McDaniel on his June 9 radio broadcast, saying he generally doesn't get involved in individual state races, but that McDaniel was "too good to pass up."
Locally, McDaniel holds endorsements from Petal Mayor Hal Marx, 10 different Mississippi Tea Party organizations and a handful of state representatives and senators.
One of those state senators, David Parker (R-Olive Branch) has a statement that appears on McDaniel's web site (www.mcdaniel2014.com).
"The national media keeps asking 'where are the new leaders for the Republican Party?'" Parker wrote in his endorsement. "I am proud to say that one such leader is willing to step forward and bear that torch for Mississippi."
The campaign also released a new television ad, which was positive in nature. It urged voters to support McDaniel on June 24th in order to help him change Washington, and listed his primary goals as the complete repeal of the Affordable Care Act, reducing the national debt, cutting taxes and setting term limits for all politicians.
The Central Mississippi Tea Party also declined to respond to requests for interviews with its chairwoman, Janis Lane.