The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

March 15, 2014

South at heart of close fight to control U.S. Senate

(Continued)

Landrieu defends her health care vote, but has clamored for changes to the law. Democrats cite her influence as head of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, saying her post is a boon for Louisiana's oil-and-gas industry and hammering Cassidy as a rubber stamp for House Republicans. Both she and Cassidy champion flood insurance relief for coastal residents.

—Mississippi hasn't seen Sen. Thad Cochran truly campaign in decades. That's changing with a challenge from state Sen. Chris McDaniel, who boasts endorsements from national conservative and tea party groups. Cochran backers answered with a super political action committee organized by Henry Barbour, the nephew of the former RNC chairman and Gov. Haley Barbour.

McDaniel wants to turn Cochran's greatest asset — his experience and what it's meant financially to Mississippi — into a liability by making the incumbent the face of the nation's $17 trillion debt. The Cochran team attacks McDaniel's legislative votes supporting bond debt for public projects. The comparison, McDaniel says, is intellectually dishonest. Henry Barbour counters that McDaniel casting Cochran as a "big-government liberal" is just as ludicrous.

Democrats recruited former U.S. Rep. Travis Childers and hope that move positions them for a surprise November victory if McDaniel defeats Cochran.

—North Carolina voters give Obama a 43 percent job approval rating, and some surveys put Hagan's even lower. It's tricky enough that she decided not to appear with Obama in January when he spoke at North Carolina State University.

Republicans have a free-for-all primary.

North Carolina's House speaker, Thom Thillis, who lead a conservative resurgence in the Statehouse, is the national Republican favorite, but he must contend with several conservative challengers. If Thillis emerges, Democrats plan to use his legislative agenda — making it harder to vote, cutting public education financing and tightening abortion regulations — against him.

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