The special election for the Mississippi Senate seat vacated by former Sen. Thad Cochran may come down to a simple question for voters: What is the Republican Party really about?
The race features Republican Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, the "establishment" Republican appointed to fill the seat in Cochran's absence, and "insurgent" outsider candidate state Sen. Chris McDaniel, who lost the 2014 primary to Cochran.
The political climate, and the Republican Party in particular, is vastly different in 2018 than it was in 2014 when McDaniel nearly defeated Cochran. Still, McDaniel believes he can be the one to help President Donald Trump lead the party as he believes it should be led, according to BuzzFeed News.
"I don't think Donald Trump is against the insurgency," McDaniel said. "I think he wants to see change. I think Mitch McConnell forces him to play the Washington game.
"What we're trying to do here is make it possible one day where [Trump] never has to play games with those people again, where he can just pass his agenda without having to ask those people for assistance," McDaniel continued, emphasizing that Trump just "needs help" that McDaniel believes he can provide.
Whether Trump believes he needs that help is yet to be seen. The president hasn't taken a side in the special election, which also includes Democratic candidate Mike Espy.
From a political strategy standpoint, it seems unlikely that Trump will endorse McDaniel. The special election on Nov. 6 will go to a runoff later in the month if no candidate gets a majority of the vote. Polling suggests that Hyde-Smith would defeat the Democrat Espy, but that Espy could defeat McDaniel in a potential runoff. Therefore, boosting McDaniel as the GOP candidate could jeopardize a Republican Senate seat.
McDaniel recently parted ways with campaign strategist Rick Tyler over the latter's consistent criticism of Trump. Tyler told BuzzFeed News that McDaniel's chances now depend on his ability to define conservatism to voters.
"If people believe that she's a conservative, she'll win," Tyler said. "If Chris can convince people he's the only conservative, he'll win."
Hyde-Smith, although in a comfortable position right now, understands she can't allow herself to be baited into mistakes by McDaniel or his (sometimes rowdy) supporters, and seems content to simply tolerate them until election day.
"It's gonna be a long time between now and then," Hyde-Smith said during a recent speech. "We've gotta put up with a whole lot between now and then. But that's okay."