Anti-establishment conservative Chris McDaniel never officially conceded the 2014 Republican primary in which he lost to Sen. Thad Cochran.
On Thursday, when discussing why he would ditch his challenge of Sen. Roger Wicker and run for the Senate seat left vacant by the retiring Cochran, McDaniel got retrospective.
“What I have is a situation in which I’m running for the same seat I ran for in 2014 – the seat we felt we won in 2014,” McDaniel said. “Now God had other plans for that, obviously, and that’s OK and we accept that. All I’m asking for now is to be allowed to finish that term that we ran for in 2014.”
McDaniel catapulted onto the national political scene in 2014 when he beat Cochran in the Republican primary, but failed to gain the required majority of votes. What ensued was a bitter three-week runoff, won by Cochran amid allegations that Democrats had improperly voted in the runoff for Cochran over the insurgent McDaniel.
McDaniel spent months challenging the election results in court to no avail. He has spent the months since the loss maintaining and building his base of Mississippi voters who say they are fed up with Washington’s power structure – the same sentiment credited with vaulting Trump to the White House in 2016.
In the 30-minute interview with reporters on Thursday, McDaniel covered several bases:
• McDaniel hopes to be the only Republican candidate in the November special election and hopes to receive an endorsement from President Donald Trump. Trump had endorsed Wicker over McDaniel in the race he dropped out of. “I would like to have his (Trump’s) endorsement. He endorsed me twice for this seat in 2014. But also to provide that unity and consolidation around a single candidate.”
• He will not drop out of the race for Cochran’s old seat, regardless of who Gov. Phil Bryant appoints. “They (potential appointment) can’t align with me philosophically if (Senate majority leader) Mitch McConnell has given them the seal of approval. As long as McConnell is down here, scheming and planning, I’m in this race.”
• He called for party unity and said he was concerned that two or more Republicans running for that special election seat could split Republican votes and provide a method for a Democrat to win the seat. “I am concerned about that, and that’s why it’s time to coalesce around a single candidate. The idea is to coalesce our resources and our manpower around this candidate – me – and to fight and go forward and to beat the Democrat.”
• On dropping out of the Wicker race for this one, he said: “It’s not the ease of the fight we’re looking for, it’s the impact of the fight.”
Bryant, who must appoint a temporary replacement for Cochran by April 10, doubled down Thursday on criticism of McDaniel. Shortly after McDaniel’s announcement on Wednesday, Bryant released a statement calling McDaniel’s move “opportunistic behavior” that “is a sad commentary for a young man who once had great potential.”
“I’ve known Phil for a long time, and he’s been a good governor,” McDaniel said on Thursday. “To his point, I would suggest he didn’t think I was opportunistic when I was his campaign chairman in Jones County when he ran for lieutenant governor. He didn’t think I was opportunistic when I helped him get elected governor. It seems the only time he found it opportunistic is when Mitch McConnell told him he found it opportunistic.”
Bryant on Thursday afternoon responded, shooting down the notion that McConnell has influence over the governor’s appointment decision.
“Anyone who thinks anyone in Washington will influence who I appoint to complete Sen. Cochran’s terms is out of touch with reality,” Bryant tweeted on Thursday.