What Sen. Thad Cochran Doesn't Seem to Know About Eric Cantor
News of Eric Cantor's stunning defeat ripped through Washington and reverberated through the halls of the Capitol.
But apparently, the news that the House majority leader had been summarily ousted by a political unknown didn't quite capture six-term GOP Sen. Thad Cochran's attention.
In an interview on Fox News Thursday, Cochran, a Republican running for re-election in Mississippi, appeared flummoxed by the political shakeup, though he had spoken about the incident with clarity the day before.
"I don't know what you're talking about," the senator, 76, said when asked about Cantor's loss. "What happened in Virginia?"
"With Eric Cantor losing his seat," the interviewer prompted.
"Well, I haven't really followed that campaign very closely at all," Cochran responded.
"Eric Cantor lost his seat as the majority leader," said the interviewer.
"Yeah, well, that happens," Cochran said. "You know, members of Congress, some win, some lose."
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Cochran spokesman Jordan Russell took issue with the backlash to the exchange, saying that the senator was aware of Cantor's loss but was "annoyed" by the reporter's question and didn't want to play political pundit.
He "felt like the question had been asked and answered enough. He's not a political pundit … He knows that it happened - he obviously knows that it happened - but he's not in the business of pontificating on why it happened," Russell told ABC News today, adding that Cochran had been asked the same question several times and was eager to focus instead on his own campaign.
But Cochran's comments were especially confusing because he was asked about Cantor's fall and answered quite clearly on Wednesday, the day after the election.
"I, like a lot of people, were surprised by the margin of victory for his opponent, but that happens in politics," Cochran told Mississippi News Now.
That same day, he also reacted to the Cantor upset in the Sun Herald of Biloxi, Mississippi, saying he doubted the shakeup would have any impact on his campaign.
"It certainly reminds people if you don't go vote, you're relinquishing your power to participate in a democracy," he told the Herald.
After the Fox News interview, the senator's campaign struck back publicly on twitter.
The @FoxNews report about Thad re: Cantor is directly contradicted by stories from two of the largest media outlets in MS…
- Thad for Mississippi (@ThadforMS) June 13, 2014
But the Fox interview isn't the only time Cochran has seemed a little vague.
When asked in May about the Affordable Care Act, Cochran, who almost always advocates for repeal, seemed to have a positive view of the president's signature initiative, calling Obamacare "an important effort by the federal government to help make health care available, accessible, and affordable."
"I'm glad to be involved in that effort," he told the Washington Post's Dan Balz. (A short time later, an aide reportedly called Balz to clarify that Cochran thought the question was about the VA.)
Cochran also seemed a bit off his game in an interview with The Atlantic's Molly Ball.
"My question was simple, but it wasn't clear Senator Thad Cochran had any idea what I was talking about," Ball observed.
When asked about why Mississippi needed him in the Senate, Cochran briefly mentioned his history in the House and Senate, then rambled about maintaining a working relationship with the international community.
Later, Cochran reportedly seemed not to recognize Ball, re-introducing himself to the journalist less than 30 minutes after their interview had concluded.
The six-term senator, who recently told the Washington Post he considered retiring but relented after his constituents pleaded with him to stay, has reportedly been ducking media interviews.
He's running against Tea Party candidate Chris McDaniel, a Mississippi state senator who forced Cochran into a runoff by clinching 49.5 percent of the vote to the incumbent's 49.0 percent.
Already contentious, the race got even nastier when one of McDaniel's supporters snuck into a nursing home to photograph Cochran's wife, who suffers from dementia. (McDaniel denied involvement in the incident.)
Despite his numerous gaffes, Cochran has been able to attract some high-profile supporters - from Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant to former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who gave Cochran's super PAC Mississippi Conservatives $250,000 last month.
"We feel good. We think people are rallying," Russell said of Cochran's chances.
ABC News' Shushannah Walshe and Ben Siegel contributed to this report.