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Miss. Senate hopeful runs to ‘save the republic’

ELLISVILLE, Miss. — Chris McDaniel comes from a small town, with a skyline of church steeples and a courthouse that overshadows a memorial to Confederate soldiers.

It is where the Tea Party-backed US Senate candidate grew up. Where he and his wife raise their two children. Where, for more than 30 years, he has spent most Sundays in the same Southern Baptist church.

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To hear him tell it, Ellisville is the kind of place that is disappearing in Mississippi and America, and that is a problem.

‘‘There are millions of us who feel like strangers in this land, an older America passing away, a new America rising to take its place,’’ McDaniel said this past week. ‘‘We recoil from that culture. It’s foreign to us. It’s alien to us . . . It’s time to stand and fight. It’s time to defend our way of life again.’’

Such a defense requires an enemy, and for the 41-year-old lawyer and state senator, that is the role played by Mississippi’s senior US senator, Thad Cochran.

The six-term incumbent ‘‘has been silent for too long’’ about what McDaniel calls the country’s long, painful decline.

McDaniel came close to knocking off Cochran in the June 3 primary, and in the days since, the challenger has toured Mississippi and unleashed a blistering indictment of his 76-year-old opponent.

‘There’s nothing extreme about wanting to balance the budget. There’s nothing extreme about defending our Constitution.’

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Cochran may be ‘‘a Mississippi gentleman,’’ McDaniel says, but the June 24 runoff is a chance ‘‘for our generation to save the republic.’’

Such rhetoric exasperates Cochran and his backers, who campaign almost entirely on the argument that Mississippi cannot afford to lose his seniority in the Senate.

But in giving Cochran his first tough reelection fight since 1984, McDaniel has forced the mild-mannered, even courtly lawmaker off script. Cochran has taken recently to calling McDaniel ‘‘an extremist’’ and warns ‘‘it would be dangerous’’ to send him to Washington.

McDaniel is ‘‘a trial lawyer putting on a show,’’ said Stuart Stevens, the Mississippi native who helped run Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign.

When McDaniel is not talking to supporters about America’s founders, he is blasting Cochran as complicit in building the nation’s $17 trillion debt.

He chides Cochran for voting to confirm Ruth Bader Ginsburg as a Supreme Court justice and former US Senator Chuck Hagel, a Nebraska Republican, as defense secretary,

In doing so, McDaniel has won the support of Tea Party conservatives who view his campaign as their best shot to unseat a Republican senator.

He has won endorsements from Sarah Palin and Libertarian hero Ron Paul, and millions of dollars in support from groups such as Club for Growth, FreedomWorks, and the Senate Conservatives Fund.

Helpful, to be sure, but it is the support McDaniel received in his home of Jones County, almost 90 percent of the vote in the primary, and places like it that helped drive his slim statewide edge in that first vote.

‘‘I don’t have anything bad to say about Thad Cochran, but Chris is just as fine a fella as you’d want to meet,’’ said Ellisville’s Vern Getty, an 84-year-old auto parts store owner who said he has known McDaniel since he was a boy. ‘‘You just always knew he was going places.’’

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