This story has been updated to include attempts to receive comment from Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann.
Chris McDaniel, a longtime Republican state senator and two-time challenger to statewide GOP incumbents, says he is tired of Republican leaders in Mississippi not being conservative enough, singling out Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann, whom he referred to as a "Republican in name only."
McDaniel, of Ellisville, said Thursday that his frustrations with Hosemann — who presides over the state Senate — may motivate another primary challenge against a prominent Republican leader when statewide elections ramp up next year.
"It's a general consensus to conservatives in the chamber that he is the roadblock to conservative reform in the state. Now, they're never going to say that. They're never going to say it out loud because to do so would invite retribution," McDaniel said.
A spokesperson for Hosemann said Friday that he has no comment in response McDaniel's comments.
McDaniel said he is openly considering running against Hosemann, but he has not made a decision yet. Regardless, he plans to run for something in 2023.
"I'll either run for reelection to my Senate position, or, as I said earlier, all the other options are still on the table as well, but certainly I'll be running for something," McDaniel said.
No stranger to mounting primary battles, McDaniel most recently faced off against U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith in a 2018 special election. Hyde-Smith had been appointed to the Senate earlier that year to replace former Sen. Thad Cochran. McDaniel attempted to paint Hyde-Smith as less conservative as well, pointing to her Democratic party affiliation prior to 2010. McDaniel ultimately came in third in the open primary, with more than 16% of the vote, finishing behind Hyde-Smith and Democrat Mike Espy.
Four years earlier, McDaniel had risen to statewide prominence by challenging Cochran, a six-term incumbent Republican. Then also he attempted to run to the right of his opponent by representing the emerging Tea Party movement.
That race, which Cochran ultimately won in a runoff by about 2%, garnered national attention after four people, including a close ally to McDaniel, were arrested in relation to covertly photographing Cochran's ailing wife inside of a nursing home and distributing those photos in a story attempting to link Cochran to an extramarital affair. McDaniel spoke out against the photographs and denied any involvement. Following the election, McDaniel made accusations of improprieties and possible voter fraud, but his legal challenges ultimately failed.
McDaniel relishes the opportunity to take on incumbents.
"I'm of the opinion that our country, as a whole, elects too many incumbents," McDaniel said. "I'm of the opinion that we need to hold our elected officials accountable, but unfortunately because of the power of money, the power of lobbyists, the power of corporate donors, the reality is these politicians amass huge fortunes and they're able to buy as much airtime as they need to get reelected, and that's the reason we stay in the same position we're in. And both parties, both parties are guilty of that."
Hosemann is not the first lieutenant governor with whom McDaniel has clashed. When now-Gov. Tate Reeves presided over the Senate, McDaniel leveed similar complaints. That said, McDaniel now affirms Reeves' conservative credentials, and counts the governor as a friend.
"Even then, I don't think anyone would deny that fiscally speaking he's always been a conservative. Our differences were primarily at the time based on personalities, which is very unfortunate. And I have to take responsibility for part of that, certainly. I consider Tate a friend now, we've gotten passed that," McDaniel said. "Thank goodness those days are over now, and as long as we have people willing to fight for conservative values I'm going to be on their side."
One of the main issues McDaniel takes with Hosemann's leadership is the number of Democrats who chair Senate committees. He said it is just one sign of Hosemann giving Democrats what they want, at times at the expense of his fellow Republicans.
"I don't mind being very upfront here," McDaniel said. "The Democrat senators in that chamber are the happiest they've been in a generation. They're the most content they've been in a generation. Their projects are funded. And they've been empowered by this lieutenant governor. That's the reality. And that is not the direction I think our state should move."
In Mississippi, Senators typically only chair one committee. There are 41 senate committees, and 36 Republicans in the chamber. Of the chamber's 16 Democrats, only three do not hold a chair position. There were also 13 Democrats chairing committees during Reeves' final four years as lieutenant governor. Even if every Republican Senator chaired one committee, that would leave five chair positions open.
McDaniel said 13 chair positions is far too many to give a party which is in the super-minority. He also thinks there should be far fewer committees, which would eliminate the issue of finding enough Republican senators to chair them.
"They're disproportionately empowered when 13 of the 16 hold chairmanships. That's a greater percentage of Democrats who hold chairmanships than Republicans that hold chairmanships in our chamber. Number two, it goes to the role and the scope of this government. There's no reason to have that many committees, and there's certainly no reason to empower Democrats to chair those committees when we're doing everything in our power to stop their agenda nationally."
McDaniel said his pointed criticisms of Hosemann are unlikely to make a difference during session, as he attempts to push his unabashedly conservative agenda through a comparatively moderate chamber. He said the lieutenant governor has long blocked his priorities, and that is likely to continue.
"If you look at my bills over the past few years, he's managed to kill every single one of my pieces of legislation because I dare to speak out against him, and it just goes to show how powerful that one position can be," McDaniel said.
As legislators prepare for the 2023 session, which begins Jan. 3, McDaniel said he has a number of priorities, and he liked what he saw out of Reeves' budget recommendation, a list of priorities the governor released in November.
"I would love to see the income tax eliminated, for one. There are probably several others, but that would be my biggest priority for the session," McDaniel said.
Hosemann was a key figure who opposed eliminating the state income tax in the previous session.
McDaniel recognizes the challenges of facing an incumbent, but he is confident he could defeat Hosemann if he decides to run.
"Incumbents win 98% of the time, so anytime a person runs against an incumbent, yes it's going to be a difficult race, no question about that," McDaniel said. "I'll beat him. I'll win the race if I run. I believe that. And I believe that because of two reasons. Objectively speaking, the polling shows that my numbers have never been stronger than they are now. Number two, as he's been forced to govern, the state of Mississippi, particularly Republicans, can now see once and for all that he is not who he claims to be."
McDaniel's interest in challenging Hosemann was first reported by Mississippi Today.
This article originally appeared on Mississippi Clarion Ledger: Chris McDaniel considers challenging Delbert Hosemann for MS Lt. Gov.