Mississippi state Sen. Chris McDaniel (R) on Tuesday narrowly lost a runoff against Sen. Thad Cochran (R). So who is this little-known state senator who took on a 36-year incumbent and nearly won? Here’s some background:
He’s a local. McDaniel was born in Laurel and raised in nearby Ellisville, two small towns south of Meridian and southeast of Jackson. He attended Jones County Junior College, where both his father and mother worked, then got a bachelor’s degree from William Carey University, a small Christian school in Hattiesburg. He got his law degree from Ole Miss.
His family still lives in Ellisville. McDaniel and his wife Jill, the 1995 winner of the Miss Mississippi USA pageant, have two sons, Cambridge and Chamberlain.
McDaniel clerked for a Cochran rival. Just out of law school, McDaniel began clerking with U.S. District Court Judge Charles Pickering Sr., a Laurel native and former state senator himself. In 1978, Pickering ran for an open U.S. Senate seat, but he lost the Republican nomination to Cochran, then a sitting U.S. congressman. The bad blood between the two men festered for years; when George W. Bush nominated Pickering for a seat on the Fifth Circuit, Cochran and his colleague Trent Lott, who was defending himself for comments made during Strom Thurmond’s 100th birthday party at the time, left the behind-the-scenes arm-twisting to Rep. Chip Pickering, Charles’s son and then a junior member of Congress. The elder Pickering withdrew his name from consideration after he failed to overcome a Democratic filibuster.
He’s a partner in his law firm, where he challenged the Affordable Care Act. McDaniel was the lead counsel in Mississippi’s lawsuit against Obamacare. He’s a partner at Hortman, Harlow, Bassi, Robinson & McDaniel.
McDaniel remembers the Alamo. In 2012, McDaniel led a Mississippi delegation to San Antonio, where he helped dedicate a monument to the Mississippians killed during the Texas revolution in 1836. At least six of the 115 men defending the fort hailed from or lived in Mississippi.
There’s audio. Lots of it. McDaniel hosted a nationally syndicated Christian talk radio program from 2004 to 2007, giving his opponents plenty of tape to comb through. Mother Jones pulled snippets in which McDaniel blames gun violence on “hip-hop” culture. The New York Times highlighted a riff in which McDaniel wonders aloud how someone who doesn’t speak much Spanish could pick up a woman in Mexico, during which he refers to “mamacitas.” He has also suggested he would rather move to Mexico than pay reparations for slavery.
And photos. Last year, McDaniel addressed the Jones County Rosin Heels, a chapter of Sons of Confederate Veterans. He was scheduled to address the group again in August, but he missed that meeting after flight trouble in Chicago. McDaniel addressed the group at least once, on June 22, 2013; a photo of his appearance is on the group’s Web site.
McDaniel is a big sports fan. He plays basketball, and he’s a Chicago Cubs fan. Not a lot of professional baseball teams to choose from in Mississippi; he must have watched the Cubbies on WGN as a kid.
He’s social. McDaniel’s campaign tweets all the time, but the candidate himself does too. McDaniel opened his Twitter account in February 2009. First tweet, at 11:49 p.m. on Feb. 27, 2009: “learning how to use twitter.”
His favorite snack: Peanut M&Ms. Enough said.