Dear Mississippi: For the next few weeks, your politics are going to be treated like a pinata by the national media. Even worse, there’ll be no candy spilling out at the end.
Tuesday’s Republican primary in the Magnolia State featured longtime U.S. Senate incumbent Thad Cochran against Chris McDaniel, a state legislator with the strong and lucrative support of national tea party groups.
The race, which also included a lesser-known third candidate, ended with neither Cochran nor McDaniel gaining more than 50 percent of the votes. So Mississippi voters get a chance to do it all over again at the end of this month. Cochran and McDaniel will compete in a runoff on June 24.
We’re back to a race featuring that old Southern two-step. With one hand, a politician shakes his fist at Washington, declaring that the feds spend too much. The folks back home cheer him on with gusto. Dang right, they say, we need to stop all that wasteful spending.
With the other hand, the same politician rakes in as much federal cash as he can to improve the lot of his impoverished state. And the folks back home don’t lift so much as a finger to slow down this flow.
Cochran didn’t invent this model of big-spending conservatism, but he’s done a good job of implementing it on behalf of Mississippi.
The challenger, McDaniel, is rallying voters around the notion that the senator is a free-spender — while ignoring how much of that booty props up Mississippi. Like many who promise to slash government spending, McDaniel has carefully avoided specifics or offered up programs that most directly benefit Mississippians.
Writing in The Washington Post, columnist E.J. Dionne Jr. asks, “Can you hate the federal government but love the money it spends on you?”
Dionne finds a “nagging contradiction” as “Cochran said he was as stoutly conservative and penny-pinching as McDaniel, but also the agent for many good things that come this state’s way courtesy of the despised national capital.”
It’s quite a deal for Mississippi. For every dollar the state sends to the nation’s capital, it gets $3.07 back, per research by Wallet Hub. In a ranking of federal aid as a share of state revenue, Mississippi is ranked first in the nation, according to the Tax Foundation.
(For the record, the same studies found Alabama receives $3.28 for every dollar sent to D.C., and it ranks 12th in federal aid as part of its state budgeting.)
“One thing the Mississippi Republican establishment and the tea party seem to agree on is that you’re not supposed to remind people that their state is way more dependent on Washington than the average food stamp recipient,” writes Gail Collins in The New York Times.
A few predictions: Caught up in an extremely tight race against a foe who fashions himself as another Ted Cruz, Cochran isn’t likely to tout how much of that nasty old federal money he’s delivering to Mississippians.
Also, don’t expect the state’s residents to get all that excited about this paradox.
Alabama saw the same thing four years ago. Gov. Robert Bentley ran for office promising that Alabama would cut a square deal with Washington — $1 back for every $1 shipped to the federal government. As noted above, one analysis finds our arrangement is way out of balance; we get $3.28 back for every $1 we send to D.C. Don’t expect the governor or any of the state’s residents to clamor to shut down Huntsville’s NASA facilities or the Anniston Army Depot anytime soon.