State Sen. Chris McDaniel’s Tea Party challenge to incumbent Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., may still be the strongest primary challenge to a GOP Senate incumbent this cycle, but it’s a relative term. He may face much more of an uphill climb than expected, a new Conservative Intel poll of Mississippi suggests.
The new survey, conducted by Harper Polling of 710 likely GOP primary voters, finds that Cochran’s favorable numbers among Republicans are fairly strong at 64 percent. McDaniel trails him in a head-to-head matchup, 54 to 31 percent. Two other polls — by PPP and Human Events — have suggested the race is a lot closer than that.
Mississippi Republicans are quite fond of their governor, Republican Phil Bryant, giving him 81 percent favorable ratings and just 6 percent unfavorable. The state’s other Republican U.S. senator, Roger Wicker, has 76 percent favorables, making Cochran the least popular among the three.
McDaniel has until next June 3 to close the gap with Cochran, who has served in the Senate since 1979. There are two silver linings for him in these results. First, he has a lot of potential upside. Thirty-three percent of Mississippi primary voters approve of McDaniel, compared to 16 percent who disapprove, and half have either never heard of him or don’t know enough to form an opinion.
Second, the poll shows that GOP primary voters are at least open to the idea of supporting a Tea Party candidate. Fifty-five percent said they would be “more likely” to support a GOP candidate who identifies with the Tea Party, versus only 29 percent who said they’d be more likely to support a non-Tea Party candidate. Fifty-nine percent say they support “the goals and ideals of the Tea Party,” and among these McDaniel and Cochran are tied at 43 percent each. And 66 percent said they “approve of the Republican-led government shutdown” from October.
Fifty-six percent of respondents identify themselves as “very conservative,” and 45 percent believe that Republicans in Washington “cooperate with President Obama and Democrats too much.” Seventeen percent believe they do not cooperate enough.
Looking ahead to the 2016 presidential race, Mississippi Republicans show a lot more support for Bobby Jindal, the governor of neigboring Louisiana, than GOP voters in most other states. He takes 9 percent in the survey, which puts him in fifth place behind Christ Christie and Ted Cruz (16 percent each), Rand Paul (14 percent), Paul Ryan (12 percent) and Marco Rubio (10 percent).
Cruz and Paul both lead Christie among GOP voters who describe themselves as “very conservative,” but Christie wins does best among those who say they are “somewhat conservative” or “moderate.”
Cruz and Ryan are the only potential candidates with a large gender gap among Republican voters. Cruz is backed by 12 percent of the women surveyed and 19 percent of the men. Paul Ryan has a gap as well, winning 14 percent among women and 9 percent among men.
Toplines and crosstabs for the poll are available here.