The Mirror

Senate GOP hopeful goes AWOL on votes to chase money, media

Betsy Rothstein Gossip blogger
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When Mississippi’s state Senate voted last month on a bill to address unintended teen pregnancies, a lawmaker hoping to win the June 3 GOP primary against Sen. Thad Cochran was campaigning in Washington.

During the vote, which passed 34-11, a purported pro-life amendment to the bill failed by one vote. The amendment would have specified that abortion could not be mentioned during college pregnancy prevention programs.

Sen. Chris McDaniel, 41, a tea party candidate and conservative commentator who is challenging Cochran, 76, for the GOP nomination for U.S. Senate, and Melanie Sojourner, a senator and his campaign manager, were campaigning in Washington instead of keeping the pro-life candidate back home to vote on a bill that appeared to be a no-brainer in terms of priorities.

On Feb. 10, McDaniel appeared at a Freedom Works forum in Washington. The vote was in the morning on Feb. 11. By evening he was back home in Mississippi for a campaign event billed as talking conservative politics while enjoying BBQ.

The amendment that would ban abortion counseling at colleges was rejected on a vote of 23 to 22, so the pair’s votes were seemingly critical. However, the amendment was not a clear-cut anti-abortion measure as even the full bill’s main sponsor voted against it. GOP Sen. Sally Doty insisted that the amendment was unnecessary because her bill is about prevention and not post pregnancy options. Nine of her Republican colleagues agreed.

Just a week before the pregnancy prevention vote, McDaniel missed a vote to amend the state seal to include the words “In God We Trust,” as requested by Gov. Phil Bryant. What was more important? Exposure. He was in Washington appearing on Glenn Beck‘s TheBlaze TV network.

Roll Call lays out McDaniel’s missed votes in a story last month. In it, McDaniel is described as charging that few people he knows have ever laid eyes on Cochran in the flesh. One of McDaniel’s big charges is that Cochran rarely goes home to Mississippi. The residency complaint also surfaced in a story last month in The Hill.

The whole thing seems like a scene straight out of House of Cards. These weren’t the lone votes for which McDaniel has gone AWOL so that he might chase money and power in Washington. In January and February alone, he missed 18 votes, making him the fifth-most truant Mississippi state senator. Of the four lawmakers who accrued a greater number of no-shows in the same time frame, one was recovering from gallbladder surgery, a second was being treated for lung cancer; and a third, SoJourner, missed votes naturally corresponding to McDaniel’s.

McDaniel campaign spokesman Noel Fritsch replied to questions about McDaniel’s missed votes by email, saying, “Not only has Sen. Cochran missed more votes than the average senator in the U.S. Senate, he has voted for the liberal, pro-choice agenda throughout his 41-year political career, including votes for taxpayer-funded abortions and federally funded stem cell research. In contrast, Chris McDaniel has been a leader for the pro-life movement in Mississippi, sponsoring legislation to qualify human embryos as life, to prohibit the abortion of fetuses with detectable heartbeats, and to ban race and gender-based abortion.”

But McDaniel, like most candidates and politicians, has enemies. Two of McDaniel’s Republican Mississippi Senate colleagues spoke to The Mirror by phone today on condition of anonymity. Both agreed that Cochran was still the right fit for the U.S. Senate and felt no desire to see McDaniel replace him. Sen. X remarked that McDaniel has a reputation for missing votes and for not engaging in matters that matter to Mississippi. The other, Sen. Y, when asked about McDaniel’s missed votes, wondered how his constituents were being affected by his absence.

“Ninety-nine percent of success is to be here,” Sen. Y said. “I’m sure he has other priorities this year. That doesn’t excuse him from the fact that he’s an elected official and is elected to serve. Some people say ‘oh gosh I don’t want to vote on that because it’s a lose-lose situation.’ We have to make hard choices sometimes. Being here, asking questions about bill, all of these things are important. If you’re not here, you can’t be an active participant in the legislative process. How well are his constituents being represented?”

Sen. X added, “In previous years there were times when, whether he was maybe on the road or not, he was not here during the session. …You don’t see engagement.”

The idea of McDaniel replacing Cochran was abhorrent to both senators. “We all want young people to succeed,” said Sen. Y, noting that McDaniel is good-looking and charming. “There’s a difference in stepping on stage at the right time and an opportunistic move. This is a grown up’s job and there’s no need to kick [Cochran] to the curb.”

Sen. X agreed, saying,  “Cochran has done a yeoman’s job. He’s not going to showboat. There’s something to be said for someone who just does his job. He’s always been a humble man.” When asked if McDaniel would be a showboater, the senator replied diplomatically, “Certain people have certain ways of presentation.”