By Bobby Harrison
The Neshoba County Fair hosts an annual bipartisan political speaking and not a political party convention, but on Thursday six-term incumbent Sen. Thad Cochran said he came to the historic event to accept the Republican Party nomination for re-election.
"The past seven months have included a hard-fought primary campaign," Cochran said before a boisterous and large crowd underneath and surrounding the tin-roofed Founders Square Pavilion where he spoke just after his Democratic challenger, Travis Childers. "I am honored to be the Republican nominee for the state of Mississippi. I accept your nomination."
The reference was to the bruising Republican Party primary against state Sen. Chris McDaniel where Cochran actually trailed after the first primary. He did not acknowledge the scattering of McDaniel supporters in the otherwise largely pro-Cochran crowd. The Tea Party McDaniel supporters carried signs that included such language as traitor, referring to the fact they believe the Cochran campaign won by recruiting Democrats to vote in the Republican primary runoff.
But on Thursday, Cochran made clear his allegiances were to the Republican Party, promising to work to appeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which has been used by at least 62,000 Mississippians to obtain health insurance, and saying that electing a Republican majority in the U.S. Senate is "the best way to change Washington quickly."
Cochran's Democratic opponent, former U.S. Rep. Childers of Booneville, speaking at the Fair for the first time, was buoyed by a smaller, though, vocal crowd of supporters. He said he did not want to engage in the personal attacks that he said dominated the Republican Party primary.
Childers said it "was no time for petty politics," because there was "serious business" facing the state and nation. He said Mississippi had been last too long "on the good lists and first on the bad lists."
While Cochran spoke of repealing the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, Childers chastised state leaders for "not working with the federal government to help 300,000 Mississippians" get health insurance through the law. He said their decision not to do so was "putting in jeopardy" Mississippi hospitals that now are being hurt by having to treat people with no health insurance free of charge.
"That's not about left or right for me," he said. "It's about right and wrong."
Childers also, referring to his mother, whom he said had to work two jobs after his father died when he was 16, said he supported "equal work for equal pay" and also an increase in the minimum wage.
"America deserves a raise," he said.
But Childers added he agrees with the Tea Party, that the nation's debt must be addressed and said he would vote for a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Cochran also promised to address the debt and said that if Republicans capture the Senate majority he is in line to be Appropriations chairman where he could have a real impact.
"In that position, I can do more for Mississippi, and at the same time, work to stop wasteful federal spending," he said. "Making government more efficient and creating an environment of less burdensome regulation will allow the free market to flourish, and create more jobs and prosperity for everyone."
Cochran promised to represent all of Mississippi and "to be accessible, willing to listen, and working to get things done for Mississippi."
But Cochran did not make any reference to debating Childers before the November general election. Childers, who took the Neshoba Fair stage just before Cochran, said he had accepted a debate invitation from the University of Mississippi School of Journalism and said he hoped to have at least three other debates against Cochran throughout the state.
After his speech, though, Cochran told a media throng he had a busy schedule and did not know if he would have time to debate.
Minutes after Cochran's speech, the McDaniel campaign sent out a news release saying under Republican National Committee rules Cochran was ineligible to receive the party nomination because he depended on Democratic votes to receive it. The press release was the latest salvo from McDaniel, who has said he intends to challenge the legality of the Republican Party primary on a number of grounds, but has yet to do so more than a month after the completion of the election.