PHILADELPHIA – What did I see and hear at this year’s Neshoba County Fair? During his July 31 appearance at the venerable campground fair, incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran went back to the career characteristics that have marked his long and successful career to answer his critics.
Cochran is a quiet man with a gentle nature. He’s not given to loud, sharp talk and he’s not given to manufactured anger and outbursts displayed for the benefit of the TV cameras. The senator is a man of keen intellect and impeccable manners.
In a humble yet forceful speech that was long on class and dignity and short on rancor and hyperbole, Cochran stood on Mississippi’s premier political stump, faced a crowd that included friends and a few foes, and claimed the Republican U.S. Senate nomination that he won in the June 24 GOP second primary. There was no equivocation, no uncertainty and no lack of resolve – and no doubt that Cochran possessed the fire in the belly to serve another term in Washington as the senior member of the state’s congressional delegation.
Under the Founder’s Square pavilion, Cochran said: “A lot of people worked very hard campaigning for me, and I am sincerely grateful for that support. Whether you voted for me in the primary or not, I’m now asking everyone to join together so we can win in November. Because, if there is one thing we can all agree on, it’s that Mississippi is worth fighting for!
“As your United States Senator, my purpose will be to continue to represent all Mississippians. From every part of the state, no matter your skin color, or how much money you have, it’s my job to represent everyone. I will continue to be accessible, willing to listen, and working to get things done for Mississippi.
“And, I will work with anyone—state and local officials, business and community leaders—who have ideas about how to create economic opportunity for Mississippians. That is my continued commitment to you.”
Cochran faced enormous pressure not only to say the right things at Neshoba, but to say them in a credible manner. Clearly, he accomplished that on stage.
Off stage, while visiting in the fair cabins at lunch and walking the grounds, Cochran was also being judged by voters. What about his age and health? What about his mental acuity?
I visited with Sen. Cochran in our fair cabin and found him to be animated, engaged, sincere and possessed of the same wry sense of humor that he’s demonstrated over the course of his career. Predictably, he didn’t disparage anyone.
Prior to Cochran’s speech was a feisty, folksy speech from Democratic U.S. Senate nominee and former 1st District U.S. Rep. Travis Childers. Childers, who has lost weight and shaved his signature pencil-thin moustache, looked to me to be a man intent on running Cochran a serious race.
Childers had audible support among the crowd and got applause and a warm reception from fairgoers. He talked at some length about the discord in the Republican Party and reminded voters attending that the Democrats offer an alternative.
To be sure, Childers is no one’s sacrificial lamb or placeholder nominee and he is an excellent retail politician. The overriding theme I heard at Neshoba is that Cochran and Childers are the nominees of their respective parties and that the general election sprint has now begun.
Sid Salter is a syndicated columnist. Contact him at 601-507-8004 or firstname.lastname@example.org.