McDaniel still coy about Senate run with one month till deadline

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Rogelio V. Solis, AP

Sen. Chris McDaniel, R-Ellisville, speaks during Mississippi Senate floor debate.

The only deadline that matters as to whether anti-establishment conservative Sen. Chris McDaniel will run for U.S. Senate is one month from today — March 1.

Supporters, political observers, even reporters have seen several of McDaniel’s self-imposed deadlines for a decision pass with no decision from him:

• First it was fall of 2017.

• Next it was the end of October.

• Then it was “sometime in January.”

Now McDaniel isn’t giving a timeline. Four weeks from the March 2 qualifying deadline for the seat, he isn’t tipping his hand.

“I know that to a lot of people these days it sounds strange, almost unbelievable, almost supernatural, but God can bring peace to a heart,” McDaniel said. “It may hit me tonight, or tomorrow morning, and when I feel it, I’ll make that announcement fast and then we’ll be moving.

“I’m waiting for that light bulb to go off,” he said.

A pro-McDaniel super PAC — Remember Mississippi PAC — raised more than $1 million in 2017, according to a year-end report filed with the Federal Election Commission on Wednesday. Two out-of-state donors represented the bulk of that fundraising —$1 million, FEC records show. Remember Mississippi currently has approximately $1.2 million cash on hand.

Leaders of the PAC urged McDaniel to run in a Wednesday press release, stating “Mississippians’ voices have been silenced for too long, their values ignored, and their will trampled.”

McDaniel told Mississippi Today on Wednesday that the PAC’s fundraising efforts made him feel “incredibly blessed.”

Rogelio V. Solis, AP

Sen. Roger Wicker

Also on Wednesday, Sen. Roger Wicker’s campaign filed its year-end report with the FEC, reporting just under $1 million raised in the final three months of 2017, bringing the campaign’s cash on hand to $4.1 million.

“I want to continue working with President Trump to grow our economy, secure our borders, and keep Americans safe,” Wicker said in a news release. “Our campaign will continue the hard work to organize volunteers in all 82 Mississippi counties and earn the trust and support of voters in the Republican primary and general election this year.”

McDaniel faces several options for future office, the most pressing decision being whether to run for Wicker’s seat. He has also considered a 2019 run for lieutenant governor.

Bill Clark, CQ Roll Call via AP

Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., leaves the Senate Republicans’ policy lunch in the Capitol on Oct. 24.

Many politicos expect Sen. Thad Cochran, the longtime senior senator, to step down sometime this year, and McDaniel has expressed interest in running for that seat. That vacancy would put into motion a November special election with no primary.

“It seems time is more on our side that against us,” McDaniel said. “So we lean back, take our time, keep working, I’m speaking two nights a week. I don’t quite have that perfect understanding that I need to jump in one of the three races. The day it hits me, the day that light goes off, it’ll be an easy decision.”

“I’m trying to make sure we get the biggest bang for the buck, and that whatever we run for, all of us together, that we change the country,” he continued. “And that might be running for lieutenant governor.”

McDaniel first rose to political prominence in 2014, when he staged a nearly successful upset of Cochran. He earned more votes than Cochran in the primary, but Cochran received more votes in a runoff three weeks later.

He then spent weeks refusing to concede the race and challenging the results in court. For months now, McDaniel has been touring the state and maintaining much of that 2014 base through provocative social media posts.

“We’ve tried it Roger Wicker’s way for 100 years,” McDaniel said. “We’ve always utilized our seniority to draw down federal funds, and for 100 years we’ve remained dead last following their playbook.”

“Our suggestion is it’s time to give someone else a shot,” he continued. “And it may not be me, but some likeminded individual who’s going to be beholden to the people of MS than any of the lobbyists, the cronies, and the insiders in Washington. That’s one of the things our base sees and is frustrated about.”

The pro-McDaniel PAC pulled in $500,000 donations each from Robert Mercer and Dick Uihlein, two out-of-state mega donors who helped financed President Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.

Uihlein also funded much of Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore’s campaign. Moore, facing several allegations of sexual harassment and assault, lost to Democrat Doug Jones in a December special election.

Brynn Anderson, AP

Former White House strategist Steve Bannon speaks at a rally for U.S. Senate hopeful Roy Moore last year in Fairhope, Ala.

Mercer most recently made national headlines after publicly cutting ties with Steve Bannon, Trump’s former chief strategist. Bannon, who has publicly supported McDaniel and pushed McDaniel to run against Wicker, was quoted in a newly released book calling the a meeting between Trump campaign leaders and Russian officials “treasonous” and “unpatriotic.”

In the interview on Wednesday, McDaniel distanced himself from Bannon and played up his own relationship with the Mercer family, saying “they’re going to be with me because they’re my friends and they believe in the things I believe in.”

It’s very clear that I’m not a Bannon candidate,” McDaniel said. “I was running for office against the establishment when Bannon was starting with Breitbart. We predated Trump in that respect. We predated Bannon in that respect. Because of that, we don’t feel like the association, however loosely configured, can hurt us because people understand that we were doing this well before Bannon came on the scene.”

Q&A: McDaniel on Roger Wicker, Donald Trump, Steve Bannon