Targets on backs of Conservative Coalition members
There are at least three Republicans in their first term in the Mississippi Senate that may not be around for a second term. The good news for Republicans is that their seats should remain in the Republican column. The three are Senators Melanie Sojourner of Natchez, Tony Smith of Picayune and Will Longwitz of Madison. All three were original members of the anti-Tate Reeves Conservative Coalition in the Senate, and two of them were strong supporters of Chris McDaniel’s campaign against U.S. Senator Thad Cochran.
Sojourner was McDaniel’s campaign manager. After the nasty incident when McDaniel’s tea party supporters took pictures of Cochran’s wife in a nursing home, Sojourner seemed less visible during the rest of the campaign. There were apparent contradictions in some of her statements following the slimy incident. Her public image took another hit when she was fined $500 by Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann for failing to file her campaign finance report for 2013, the only legislator who failed to do so. Even before the McDaniel campaign Sojourner had the reputation in the Mississippi Senate of being sort of a whack job. After winning the Republican primary in 2011, in the general election Sojourner defeated Democrat Bob Dearing, who served in the legislature for more than 30 years. She defeated Dearing by less than 500 votes out of more than 20,000 votes that were cast. She also lost her home county of Adams to Dearing. Some have speculated that she has taken so many negative hits that Sojourner may not seek re-election. Others have suggested that Dearing might even switch to the Republican party in an attempt to win back his old Senate seat.
Tony Smith is another tea party favorite and Conservative Coalition member. He was an active McDaniel supporter. Even before McDaniel’s antics after he lost the runoff to Cochran, Smith had political problems back home. He won his Senate seat by defeating veteran incumbent, Ezell Lee, 3,378-to-2,633. Apparently, winning a second term in the Senate won’t be an issue for Smith, as he has made his intentions known to run for Southern District Public Service Commissioner. There’s even some talk that Smith will be the favorite candidate of utility officials. That would be a big factor in his favor. But that might not be so smart on their part since Smith is not a favorite of Lt. Governor Tate Reeves. Smith has stood arm in arm with the anti-Reeves group of McDaniel, Sen. Michael Watson, and others members of the Conservative Coalition in the Senate.
The most shaky first term Republican senator could be Will Longwitz of Madison. Longwitz found his way to the Mississippi Senate when veteran Republican Walter Michel decided not to seek re-election in 2011. Longwitz had name ID from a narrow loss in a judicial race and had a close victory in the GOP primary. His Madison and Hinds County district is safe for Republicans. After he took office, Longwitz quickly joined forces with the McDaniel-Watson Conservative Coalition. Later on he was more or less booted out of the McDaniel-led group. Longwitz then attempted to make peace with Reeves but in reality he is a man without a country in the Mississippi Senate.
He is not well-regarded in the Senate and many of the most prominent Republican leaders in Madison and Hinds County are making a major effort to find a 2015 opponent for Longwitz. His worst nightmare is if Michel decides to recapture his old senate seat. Michel has retained a very large balance in his campaign account, is very popular with a lot of Republicans in the district, and is receiving a great deal of encouragement to take on Longwitz. But you can bet on one thing: if not Michel, there will be another strong Republican to lead the effort to make Longwitz a one-term state senator.