Mississippi’s GOP senate primary is quickly becoming ground zero in 2014 for the fight between the establishment and the conservative grassroots for control of the Republican Party’s future. The state’s former governor Haley Barbour’s establishment political machine is in full swing running defense for incumbent Sen. Thad Cochran. Cochran is facing the fight of his political life from surging primary challenger two-term state Sen. Chris McDaniel. What has until now largely been a battle between Cochran and McDaniel facing off head-to-head is turning into the front line of the brutal and bloody political war between the Chamber of Commerce-style lobbyist big government Republicans and conservative grassroots focused Republicans who align with the Tea Party movement. Conservatives say Barbour and Cochran are examples of exactly what’s wrong with the party right now, while establishment figures say the exact same thing about the Tea Party.
The last several months have provided foreshadowing for the battle. Before McDaniel even announced he would challenge Cochran, Henry Barbour said McDaniel will have “his head handed to him, and that will be what he deserves” if he ran.
But on Wednesday, this fight between grassroots conservatives and establishment Republicans in Mississippi burst into open warfare.
“The battle lines are clearly drawn in this race,” FreedomWorks President Matt Kibbe said in an emailed statement to Breitbart News. “This is Cochran and his band of super lobbyists vs. Chris McDaniel and the people of Mississippi. The Barbours don't represent Mississippians, they represent their lobbying client lists.”
In a story headlined “The Barbour Gang Rides to Thad Cochran’s Rescue,” Politico’s Alex Burns reported Wednesday how the Barbour family—a political platoon in and of itself armed with money, connections and experience—is working overtime to save Cochran’s seat in the U.S. Senate from the Tea Party movement backed McDaniel.
Barbour’s nephews, Henry and Austin Barbour, and Barbour himself, Burns wrote, are all an “integral part of the sophisticated political operation seeking to quash Cochran’s primary opponent from the GOP’s right flank.” Henry and Austin Barbour both serve in key roles for the Cochran re-election effort; Henry is the head of the pro-Cochran Super PAC Mississippi Conservatives PAC while Austin is a senior Cochran campaign strategist.
Both Barbour nephews have day jobs outside of their work for Cochran, too, in which they run multi-state lobbying outfits, but their work for Cochran is getting more serious because McDaniel is presenting a clearer and more present danger to the senior senator’s re-election chances. McDaniel just secured the endorsement of former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, and on Wednesday the Tea Party Patriots Citizens Fund announced its support for him. He already has a consortium of national and state groups backing him up, ranging from the powerful Club For Growth to the grassroots-focused FreedomWorks and Tea Party Express, among scores of others.
Burns added that Cochran’s campaign expects Barbour himself, a political leader “who remains a Godfather-like figure in state politics three years after leaving office,” to stump for the senior senator from Mississippi “later in the race.” He has, however, Burns wrote, already raised money for both Cochran’s campaign and the senator’s Super PAC.
Tea Party Express chairwoman Amy Kremer told Breitbart News that Team Barbour is no match for the grassroots conservative movement already supporting McDaniel. “You can involve the entire Barbour family and all of their trusted ones on the payroll, but they will never have the strength of the grassroots,” Kremer said. “This mentality and the arrogance exhibited only emboldens the grassroots. We will not be intimidated, nor will we back down. This seat belongs to the people and not Senator Cochran or the Barbour family.”
Barbour, Burns noted, “presides over an expansive network of closely linked operatives and a channel of major-donor money that runs from K Street to downtown Jackson and through national groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce,” and his operative web closely overlaps with Cochran’s team. “Many of Cochran’s chief benefactors and advisers are alumni of Barbour’s campaigns and administration, including the senator’s pollster, TV admaker and finance chairman,” Burns wrote.
“A seventh term for Thad Cochran might mean higher fees for Haley Barbour’s lobbying practice, but it means more bailouts, debt-limit increases and tax hikes for Mississippi voters,” Club For Growth spokesman Barney Keller fired back at Barbour’s machine in an email to Breitbart News on Wednesday.
Kibbe echoed Keller’s assessment that the Barbours want Cochran in Washington to keep the federal dollars rolling into their lobbyists’ clients. “The Barbour family wants Cochran in Washington to keep the spending rolling, but the only thing that his 19 debt ceiling votes brought home for Mississippi families was over $10 trillion in debt, all to be passed on to children and grandchildren,” Kibbe said. “It’s time for a new generation of representation that cares about families and small businesses in Mississippi, and Chris McDaniel is the principled leader who can get it done.”
In an interview with Burns, Barbour actually embraced being part of the decades-old GOP establishment in the state.
“Thad Cochran, [former Senate Majority Leader] Trent Lott and I have been allies, worked together for Mississippi for 40 years,” Barbour said. “I got involved helping Thad when I was a law student. I chaired his 1978 Senate campaign when I was a lawyer in Yazoo City.”
Barbour also downplayed his family’s Godfather-esque power over Mississippi politics, saying McDaniel “will find that Thad Cochran is a much stronger political figure than the Barbour family.”
When Barbour ran for governor in 2003, Cochran made an ad that Burns wrote gave Barbour a “critical boost” and put him in the lead back then. In the ad, Cochran actually described Barbour as a “Mississippi success story” because he was a prominent Washington, D.C., political lobbyist.
“He built the nation’s No. 1 lobbying firm, representing businesses that employ millions of Americans and helping fund universities and hospitals in Mississippi,” Cochran said of Barbour in the ad. “I’m proud of Haley, and you will be, too.”
Tea Party Patriots Citizens Fund chairwoman Jenny Beth Martin said that mentality is exactly why her group is endorsing McDaniel over Cochran.
“It is precisely this kind of thinking - that having built the number 1 lobbying firm is a ‘good thing’ - that proves just how out of touch the insider, DC establishment crowd is with mainstream America,” Martin said in an email. “This is just one more reason why we have chosen to endorse Chris McDaniel for US Senate.”
Martin added that she does not find it “surprising to see establishment Republicans and Washington lobbyists rally around 35-year incumbent Thad Cochran,” because such figures like the Barbour family “have always been about their own interests.”
“The Tea Party is about representing the interests of the American people,” she said, noting that McDaniel “will be a true representative of the people, not just his pals on K Street.”
Kremer, the chairwoman of Tea Party Express, told Breitbart News that this type of attitude from Barbour is why Americans should distrust career politicians. “I am not sure what is worse, Governor Haley Barbour saying that Cochran should be a Senator for life, or Senator McConnell saying they are going to ‘crush’ the tea party movement and our candidates,” Kremer said in an email. “These comments make it clear that the establishment mentality is to look out for themselves before looking out for their constituents and the American people. This is exactly what is wrong in Washington.”
Kremer, a self-described “southern belle,” also said that Barbour’s blatant inability to understand the grassroots means he should consider leaving politics along with Cochran.
“I have met Governor Barbour several times and he is a very nice southern gentleman, but he has no understanding of the strength of the tea party in Mississippi,” she said. “Bless his heart, maybe it is time for him to retire too.”