As Democrat Doug Jones achieved the unthinkable in Alabama Tuesday night – winning a vacant U.S. Senate seat while knocking off Republican anti-establishment firebrand Roy Moore – Mississippi’s own anti-establishment darling Chris McDaniel fired off a Facebook message to his 185,000 followers.
“The swamp is stronger than you imagined,” McDaniel wrote. “How hard are you willing to fight?”
That message was quickly shared among several GOP operatives in the state, who are closely gauging whether the Republican state senator will launch a 2018 primary challenge against U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker.
The Roy Moore loss in Alabama, while not a shining moment for the anti-establishment movement, may not at all discourage McDaniel, who is credited with helping spark the anti-establishment movement after narrowly losing to Sen. Thad Cochran in the wild 2014 Senate primary.
Prolonged dysfunction in the Alabama GOP and Moore’s candidacy, marred by several sexual molestation claims and controversial statements continually made by his surrogates, contributed greatly to the uniqueness of that race. And Alabama is not Mississippi.
Political pundits have cautioned those in other states to take what happened in Alabama with a grain of salt, and by Wednesday, the message of anti-establishment types converged with those warnings.
“Roy Moore did not lose last night because he was a conservative,” McDaniel wrote Wednesday morning. “He lost because he was accused of pedophilia (one of the worst things imaginable). At that point, the news cycle and the DC establishment spent weeks destroying his candidacy.”
For now, McDaniel won’t announce whether he’ll run against Wicker. As pundits speculate, just two things regarding the 2018 Senate race are certain: Wicker will run for re-election, and he’s got a target on his back.
Wicker, who was first appointed to the Senate in 2007 after Sen. Trent Lott resigned, was specifically named a 2018 target by Steve Bannon, the former White House chief strategist who has waged war on Washington’s establishment Republicans for years. Bannon has renewed that activity since leaving the White House in August, publicly pairing himself with Moore in Alabama.
Tuesday’s loss in Alabama swiftly damaged Bannon’s credibility within establishment Republican circles in both Jackson and Washington, but Bannon on Wednesday signaled the loss would only “throw gasoline on the fire.”
Wicker, whose campaign staff said he would not release a statement Wednesday regarding the Alabama election, has not faced a strong challenge since the 2008 special election. In that race, Wicker soundly defeated former Gov. Ronnie Musgrove by 10 percentage points.
In 2012, Wicker went virtually unchallenged in the Republican primary and crushed Democratic nominee Al Gore (no, not that Al Gore) by 17 points.
Meanwhile, Mississippi Democratic operatives, who have never elected a modern Democrat to the U.S. Senate, said on Wednesday that the Alabama race could be used as a road map, of sorts, to defeating an anti-establishment candidate here in 2018.
Turnout in the Alabama race on Tuesday, particularly among African Americans and women, greatly exceeded projections from state officials and both campaigns. Never-before-used black voter outreach strategies could be mimicked in states like Mississippi, which has the highest percentage of black voters in the nation.
If McDaniel enters the 2018 race, Democratic Party Chairman Bobby Moak told Mississippi Today earlier this month, the party is poised to enter a “strong Democratic challenger.” If McDaniel does not enter the race, Moak said, the “strong challenger” would likely sit out in 2018.
“There has to be a dynamic,” Moak said. “Let’s face it, we’re in a 45-55, 47-53 kind of state, as we sit here today. If (McDaniel enters the race), then that probably inspires a Democrat to jump.”
“All of a sudden, it’s not a 45-55, it’s a 50-50.”