As the wild Republican Senate runoff here tumbles to a climax next week, what began as a bare-bones campaign against Sen. Thad Cochran has bloomed into a full-blown political carnival. Insurgent conservative Chris McDaniel, once viewed as a gadfly state legislator propped up by a lonely pair of well-funded national groups, is now at the center of a colorful and unwieldy activist entourage scrambling to grab a piece of his anticipated success.
The names and faces crowding around McDaniel would be familiar to voters in any number of political battlegrounds, lending a “Wizard of Oz”-like quality to the race. If a voter woke up in the last few days of the election, they’d look around and find all the familiar staples of conservative TV and talk radio arrayed before them: Sarah Palin and Rick Santorum are here. And there’s Ron Paul! And — could that be Chuck Woolery, too?
The former Alaska governor, Pennsylvania senator and Texas congressman, as well as the cheeseball ex-game show host, are all part of the activist road show that has rolled through state after state in the tea party era. It’s the same rogues gallery that flocked to Indiana for the 2012 nomination fight between moderate Sen. Dick Lugar and upstart Richard Mourdock; many of the same little-funded groups and C-list political celebrities rushed to Missouri two years ago to dig in behind Todd Akin’s doomed Senate campaign. They have descended upon Mississippi only in the last few weeks, as McDaniel’s campaign has taken on unmistakable momentum.