Cochran’s Obama praise could complicate bid; McDaniel faces Katrina scrutiny

Video of Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) praising President Obama in 2008 has resurfaced, becoming the latest complication in Cochran's quest to fight off a conservative primary challenge.

Meanwhile, Cochran's primary challenger faces new scrutiny over recent comments about Hurricane Katrina relief funding. The two developments have intensified the competition in one of the most closely-watched Republican primaries of the 2014 cycle.

In 2008, Cochran told the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal 's editorial board, "I really like" both Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Barack Obama (D-Ill.), then presidential rivals.

Cochran said he planned to vote for McCain, praised the Republican and said "experience" set him apart from Obama. But he also praised Obama, saying, "I just think he has the personal qualities to grow in the job even though he’s hadn’t had all the experiences that some others have. He has been in the United States Senate, he’s proven he gets along well with people. He’s very affable and charming, wonderful personality, very engaging personally, and diplomacy is a real important part of the job of the presidency and I think he will do an excellent job in that respect."

National Review highlighted the exchange Thursday and posted video of Cochran's remarks.

The comments could be problematic for Cochran, who is facing a challenge from state Sen. Chris McDaniel, a candidate backed by national tea party groups who is seeking to cast Cochran as insufficiently conservative.

The video comes after Cochran told a local TV station earlier this week he doesn't "really know a lot about" the tea party.

Cochran campaign spokesman Jordan Russell told National Review the senator "voted against Obamacare over 100 times every chance he’s gotten to vote against it. He voted against the TARP bailout, against the stimulus in 2009, he spent 30 minutes on the floor arguing passionately against the stimulus bill. He has voted against gun control in 2013, which, of course, is a huge priority for the president, and he’s voted against amnesty in every chance he’s gotten too. Every priority of Barack Obama in Washington since he’s gotten there, Senator Cochran has been adamantly opposed to it, and I think that record speaks for itself."

Russell told Post Politics he had nothing to add beyond that statement.

Meanwhile, McDaniel's comments could be complicating his own effort. In an interview with Politico, he dodged questions about whether he would have voted for a Hurricane Katrina relief bill. Later, his campaign said he would have voted for it.

But that didn't stop criticism from regional newspapers.

"Voting for aid for your own people after one of the worst disasters in U.S. history would be a tough decision? Really?" read a New Orleans Times-Picayune editorial.

In the Jackson Clarion-Ledger, columnist Sam R. Hall, a former state Democratic Party executive director, wrote, "Really? You want to be a U.S. Senator from Mississippi, and you don’t automatically and emphatically answer a question about Katrina aid with, 'I absolutely would have supported federal aid to rebuild Mississippi after the most devastating national disaster of my lifetime!'"

Sean Sullivan has covered national politics for The Washington Post since 2012.
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