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Mississippi's McDaniel has some explaining to do

Chris McDaniel's radical associations are sparking a larger discussion about Mississippi's Republican U.S. Senate primary.
Mississippi Senator Chris McDaniel speaks during a town hall meeting in Ocean Springs, Mississippi March 18, 2014.
Mississippi Senator Chris McDaniel speaks during a town hall meeting in Ocean Springs, Mississippi March 18, 2014.
By any sensible standard, Mississippi Senate hopeful Chris McDaniel is considered very conservative. For example, it was the GOP state senator, currently taking on U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran in a primary, who conceded having a role at a neo-Confederate and pro-secessionist conference last summer.
But as Dave Weigel noted, interest in Cochran's associations is only intensifying.

On Wednesday afternoon the conservative blog Y'all Politics posted a kind of scoop. Chris McDaniel, the Republican challenger who has posed a serious threat to Sen. Thad Cochran all year, was scheduled to speak at Firearm Freedom Day in (wait for it) Guntown, Miss. Two other Republican legislators, Melanie Sojourner and (wait for it again) Bubba Carpenter, would be there too. But among the vendors was a group called Pace Confederate Depot. This might not have raised hackles with the rest of the press -- not in a state whose flag incorporates the stars and bars -- but blogger Alan Lange, a donor to Cochran, did some homework.

And what Lange found quickly became a national story: Pace Confederate Depot's lead proprietor is a racial segregationist, not usually the kind of person a U.S. Senate candidate would choose to hang around with before voters head to the polls.
McDaniel's campaign soon after announced that the candidate would not be attending the event after all.
But what makes this story especially interesting is its two parallel angles. The first is McDaniel's radical associations, which help capture an ugly side to contemporary far-right politics. The second is the speed with which the Republican establishment -- in Mississippi and in D.C. -- is using the story to bury McDaniel.
On the former, I suspect the vast majority of the American mainstream would agree Senate candidates associating with white supremacists is simply unacceptable.
But on the latter, Republicans are deeply concerned McDaniel might defeat Cochran, the long-time incumbent, in the GOP primary, and give former Rep. Travis Childers (D) a fighting chance to pick up the seat. So they're wasting no time in taking advantage of the situation.

The chairman of the Mississippi Republican Party said Thursday that the state senator challenging Republican Sen. Thad Cochran should explain why he was listed as a keynote speaker at an event that included a group that sells "white pride" merchandise. [...] Mississippi GOP chairman Joe Nosef told NBC News Thursday that McDaniel should clarify whether he supported the group. "I think he should clear it up as fast as he can," Nosef said. "Running for the United States Senate is a very important thing and as a party we need to always be careful and focused and serious about what our views are and what our interests are. And if Sen. McDaniel thinks that there's more to tell, to explain it, my thought as the party chairman would be, the sooner the better."

Several Republican activists and pundits went even further.
The primary isn't until June 3, and between now and then, the party establishment's criticism of McDaniel will likely grow louder. Whether that will help or hurt the primary challenger remains to be seen.