Seniority Not The Boon It Once Was

Seniority was once valued in politics, but this year, incumbents are having trouble convincing voters that politicians get better with age. 

It’s an issue that was front and center last week in 76-year-old Sen. Thad Cochran’s (R-Miss.) primary runoff battle with state Sen. Chris McDaniel, and was a driving force in 91-year-old Rep. Ralph Hall’s (R-Texas) loss last month. 

For both Hall and Cochran, it’s not just that their decades of service are seen as a detriment — questions about the effects of their age are popping up, too. 

Cochran might have given his detractors more fuel for those charges over the past few weeks. After giving an interview on Wednesday commenting on House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s (R-Va.) stunning primary loss last week, Cochran, in a separate interview on Thursday, seemed unaware of the upset or its significance. It was one of a series of such moments in the race during which Cochran appeared confused or forgetful concerning campaign issues.

Though McDaniel’s team hasn’t overtly pushed the issue, Cochran’s own comments have made it hard to ignore, even prior to his statements on Cantor last week.

Ford O’Connell, a GOP strategist who has worked in Mississippi before, said that McDaniel’s team has to be careful in how it uses the issue in the race, lest it provoke some “sympathy votes” for the well-liked Cochran. 

But McDaniel’s team hasn’t had to mention it outright, because Cochran, unlike Hall, has drawn negative attention to the age issue with his own comments. 

And it’s there that the incumbent could make the argument for McDaniel’s team, O’Connell said. 

“That is precisely the connection that the McDaniel campaign wants Mississippi runoff voters to make — the idea is, Thad’s a good guy; he’s served well, but it’s time to turn over the reins,” O’Connell said.

Read more from Alexandra Jaffe at The Hill

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Analysis & Political Strategy