Palin, Santorum try to topple Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) as heated primary nears end


Former Alaska governor Sarah Palin (R) (Bob Gathany/AL.com via AP)

Two nationally-known tea party figures are trying to rally support for state Sen. Chris McDaniel (R) in the closing days of the Republican primary for U.S. Senate in Mississippi, which has become the most heated campaign of 2014.

Former senator and presidential candidate Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) endorsed McDaniel against Sen. Thad Cochran (R) Thursday, wading into a race that has pitted national tea party groups against the GOP establishment. Meanwhile, former Alaska governor Sarah Palin (R) cut a radio ad for McDaniel, whom she endorsed in March.

"He is a proven conservative who will be guided by the U.S. Constitution as he votes on issues before the U.S. Senate," Santorum said of McDaniel in a statement released via his political action committee.

In her radio ad, Palin says McDaniel "will be one of the good guys fighting for us in Washington."

The ad and endorsement come as the arrest of a pro-McDaniel blogger for allegedly filming Cochran's bedridden wife and posting at least one image of her in an online video has upstaged everything else in the race. Cochran's campaign has suggested that McDaniel's campaign knew more about the entire episode than it let on. McDaniel and his team have insisted they played no part in the incident.

Santorum referenced the dustup in his endorsement of McDaniel.

"As is often the case in closely watched campaigns, this race has succumbed to the distractions of unfortunate political theater.  It is time to return to a discussion about the issues that matter to the future of this country," he said.

Meanwhile, a super PAC supporting Cochran released a closing radio ad Thursday that says McDaniel "doesn't tell the truth." The ad cites McDaniel's vote in a Democratic primary — which he previously disputed — and his argument in court against tort reform, despite saying he supports it.

The group also released a TV ad hitting McDaniel for being absent from the state Senate more than 100 times.

In another late twist, Breitbart News reported Wednesday that Jeppie Barbour endorsed McDaniel. He is the brother of former Mississippi governor Haley Barbour (R), a Cochran backer. Jeppie Barbour's son Henry Barbour runs the pro-Cochran super PAC, while son Austin is a Cochran campaign adviser.

The primary is June 3.

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

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