On March 5, Mississippi Senator Thad Cochran stepped down due to health concerns. According to NPR, his resignation comes as no surprise; Cochran has been absent from Congress for long stretches of time over the last year.
Senator Cochran has had a long and distinguished career of being on the wrong side of almost every political issue since he entered Congress in 1973. Thad Cochran is against gay marriage, was completely in favor of the drug war, supported the expansion of the U.S. surveillance state and supported both the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars.
Perhaps his most notable act in the Senate was when he took a brave stand along with seven other Senators to oppose a bill that formally apologized to lynching victims and their families on behalf of Congress, which repeatedly blocked legislation that would have made lynching illegal.
According to The New York Times in 2005 Cochran (who has Confederate President Jefferson Davis’s desk in his office) opposed the bill saying, “I don’t think I’ll get in the business of apologizing for acts that previous Senates took.”
Clearly, Thad Cochran is not a noble or even good person as some pundits have described him.
However, his resignation now leaves two Mississippi Senate seats open during the 2018 election cycle. According to The New York Times, David Baria, State House Democratic leader, has announced his candidacy for Senate. The Democratic Party is clearly hoping to see a repeat of the success Doug Jones found in Alabama.
The Mississippi and Alabama campaigns will mirror each other in their contentious Republican primary elections. In Alabama’s primary, Roy Moore, an anti-establishment Republican in the mold of Donald Trump, beat Luther Strange, an establishment Republican supported by Mitch McConnell. This pattern will likely play out again in Mississippi where Republican Chris McDaniel plans to challenge Roger Wicker. The New York Times reported that Chris McDaniel is backed by Steve Bannon, Donald Trump’s former Chief Strategist and former executive chairman of Breitbart, and plans to run to the right of Wicker who is viewed as an establishment candidate.
With a potentially messy Republican Primary and an energized Democratic base, it is possible that Democrats could capture one or two Senate seats in Mississippi. However, just sticking someone with a “D” before their name in the Senate isn’t good enough.
Just because someone is a nominal Democrat does not mean that they will support progressive values or stand up to Donald Trump. We have very recent examples of this in Alabama and Virginia.
In 2017 Doug Jones became the first Democrat to win a Senate election in Alabama since 1992, and what has he done since his election? According to FiveThirtyEight, Jones, along with 14 other Democrats, supported a bank deregulation bill, voted in favor of a bill that would continue warrantless wiretapping and voted to end the government shutdown (which was used as leverage to renew Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival). Sen. Jones is a useless Democrat who might as well be a Republican.
Akin to Doug Jones, Ralph Northam also won as a Democrat in a traditionally Republican state in 2017. During his gubernatorial campaign against his Republican opponent, Ed Gillespie, Northam seemed to be shaken by Gillespie’s anti-immigrant attacks, painting Northam as a sympathizer of MS-13, an El Salvadoran gang.
According to CNN, Northam, who previously voted in support of sanctuary cities, flipped his position to being anti-sanctuary city. Now that he is governor, he says that he will veto any legislation banning sanctuary cities.
This is the kind of strong, consistent Democratic leadership we have in Virginia: someone who flips his position as soon as he is attacked from the right. Beyond his inconsistency, Northam is just another vanilla Democrat who won’t rock the boat.
The practice of running these milquetoast Democrats in conservative areas is often justified by the idea that, “You can’t litmus test candidates based on your particular beliefs, in conservative areas Democrats have to be more moderate.”
It is, of course, true that some political positions will not fly in certain areas, and it is important to appeal to independents and Republican voters. However, in the process of reaching across the aisle, a candidate shouldn’t abandon their base or take it for granted. Center-right Democrats only demoralize the base of the party while passing right-wing policies.
It is also important to note that if someone is a social conservative, it doesn’t matter what a Democrat says. A Democrat will not be able to out-Republican a Republican on social issues like immigration or civil rights. Why would a social conservative vote for a Democrat running as a Republican when an actual Republican is in the race?
It is important to remember during this wave year that it is not sufficient to elect Democrats; their policies and record matter. If the left focuses on electing any Democrat who runs, it will have a hollow victory.