By Craig Ford
The two main candidates for U.S. Senate appeared Thursday at the Neshoba County Fair as the top attraction for this year's political speeches.
The appearance by Republican U.S. Senator Thad Cochran came more than a month after he emerged from a bruising party primary fight against state Senator Chris McDaniel.
While asking for support, Cochran addressed whether at 76 years old he is still able to serve.
"I remember another Republican who spoke at the Fair a few years ago, and some people criticized his age," said Cochran. "I don't know about you, but I think Ronald Reagan turned out to be a great president."
The Hill newspaper reported in early July observing the senator having trouble finding the room in the Senate where the weekly lunch for GOP senators has been held for years. A Cochran spokesman responded by saying it's easy for anyone to get distracted while walking with a reporter in the U.S. Capitol.
The senator, who's running for a seventh term, made an appeal for all Republicans to unite so the party can win in the fall election.
That appeal came before an overwhelmingly pro-Cochran crowd. However, there were McDaniel supporters near the front of the audience with signs saying "betrayed" and "voters alienated." Some of them even had red tape over their mouths.
McDaniel's camp contends there was voter fraud in the June 24 GOP primary runoff. It has threatened to file a legal challenge even though the state Republican Party certified the results, which have Cochran winning by more than 7,000 votes.
Even with the discord, another prominent Republican who spoke asked for party unity.
"This divide must be healed for the health of the party and, more importantly, for the health of our state," said state House Speaker Philip Gunn.
Someone who hopes to capitalize on that division is Travis Childers. The Democratic nominee spoke before Cochran and expressed support for a higher minimum wage, among other things. He also expressed a willingness to work with Republicans as well as Democrats.
"At the end of the day, it's not about left or right with me," said Childers. "It's about right and wrong."