JACKSON, Miss. — U.S. Sen John McCain and other supporters of U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran are playing up his support for the military in their push before Tuesday's Mississippi Republican runoff, when the six-term incumbent faces a tea party-backed challenger, state Sen. Chris McDaniel.
Speaking Monday at a rally in Jackson, McCain said that Cochran, a fellow Navy veteran, has been a steady ally of military spending and readiness.
"I call on my fellow veterans, I call on my fellow service members to send Thad Cochran, a good and decent and honorable senator, back to the United States Senate," McCain told an audience of about 200 at the War Memorial auditorium in downtown Jackson.
The Arizona senator was the 2008 Republican nominee for president. His vice presidential running mate, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, traveled to Mississippi in late May to campaign for McDaniel.
McDaniel scheduled campaign appearances Monday in Meridian and Flowood. During a Tea Party Express rally Sunday in Biloxi, McDaniel said the U.S. faces a fiscal crisis because of a huge federal debt, but he added: "I am not going to balance the budget on the backs of the military."
In a fund-raising email sent Monday to supporters, McDaniel renewed his attack on spending, though.
"This is pretty simple," he wrote. "If you think we should keep the same guys in office that supported these outrageous spending sprees, then listen to John McCain and support Thad Cochran."
In a press release Monday, the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste attacked Cochran's record on earmarking federal funds. The affiliated Citizens Against Government Waste has often rated Cochran one of its worst porkers.
"Based on his voting record and his campaign pledge, there is little doubt that if he is re-elected, Sen. Cochran will both continue to squander taxpayer money and seek to re-establish earmarking."
McCain said Monday that although he has fought earmarked spending, he and Cochran have relatively few disagreements. He said he believed he could work with McDaniel if he is elected, but said the newcomer would have a "very steep learning curve."
Cochran didn't even ask audience members for their votes, leaving that to his surrogates, mainly praising McCain in brief remarks. Afterward, he told reporters that his experience and sound judgment would help him spend money wisely, defending against McDaniel's attacks that Cochran shares the blame for the federal debt and deficit
"I think that experience is a very strong asset in determining how you allocate very scarce resources," Cochran said.
Five prominent Mississippi Republicans — Gov. Phil Bryant, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, state Auditor Stacey Pickering, U.S. Sen Roger Wicker and U.S. Rep Gregg Harper — also renewed their endorsements of Cochran.
Harper said Cochran had been instrumental in preserving an Air National Guard unit in Meridian.
"Thad Cochran deserves to be re-elected for what he's done for Mississippi," Harper said. "But the reason he should be re-elected is what he means for the future of Mississippi."
Associated Press writer Emily Wagster Pettus contributed to this article from Biloxi.