Finding a decent radio station in South Mississippi — at least a dozen or so years ago — proved to be the most challenging part of my frequent trips to see family in Mobile.
The schedule for my departure usually was this: Leave the Vicksburg Post at about 3, load up the dog and head south. I am not one much for music while driving, instead preferring to listen to “good old American talk radio.”
As the dog and I neared Hattiesburg, the radio dial would find its way to 98.1 FM. The first time it happened, I almost drove off the side of Highway 49 South. On a radio program titled “The Right Side” were a guy named Jack Fairchilds, who had a history in Vicksburg, and another named Chris McDaniel. And when they titled their program “The Right Side,” they were not kidding.
Some of the things they commented on really knocked my socks off. They made Rush Limbaugh look like Nancy Pelosi. They made William F. Buckley blush. I mean, they were RIGHT!
But I listened because I could tell that both spoke with passion and conviction and principle. They both believed in a truly Constitutional conservative approach to America and were not shy about it.
The more years I spent in Mississippi, the more and more their “crazy right-wing views” that I once attached to those two on the radio made more and more sense to me. I actually agreed with the vast majority of what they said. I never was 100 percent in lockstep with everything, but who really is?
Lo and behold, the calendar ticked toward 2013 and I realized that, from the living room in my first apartment in Ellisville, I could look upon the home of that same Chris McDaniel I had heard so many times on the radio. He was outside a lot — usually with his kids in the large yard or sitting under the arbor with a group of friends.
I snagged an invite to one such soiree and quickly found one of my first friends in Ellisville. There was a looseness about him and an engaging demeanor. People talked politics under the arbor, but it was all just friends talking and nothing more. That was well before he announced his first run for U.S. Senate.
He can likely still tell anyone who asks about the myriad mornings in which Cali the Dog and I walked by his home. His dog Katie — a territorial barker like I have never seen — would greet Cali and me with a vengeance. She wore a shock collar to keep her from leaving the yard because who knows what she would have done to a stranger. My morning walks would be early, while McDaniel liked to sleep in a bit.
We ruined that most weekday mornings.
We got along glowingly, except his misguided affinity for the Boston Red Sox, and got even more acquainted when I married a Chicago Cubs fan who rivaled the love of the North Siders almost as much as McDaniel.
During his run for U.S. Senate in 2014, on the day the runoff got stolen from him, he allowed me to tag along on his campaign bus for stops in Southwest Mississippi. I became only the second reporter to ever be invited on the bus, after Fox News’ John Roberts.
But what I was expecting on that trip is certainly not what happened. I expected a gaggle of supporters and media. When I stepped aboard, there was Larry the driver and Chris. I got the business part out of the way, then chatted much the same we we did under the arbor so many nights.
After a stop in Brookhaven, the bus headed south toward McComb for the final greeting of voters. Chris was glued to his phone. The positivity that he had that morning started to leave. His smile started to disappear.
He had gotten the news of the shenanigans happening in Hinds County, where thousands of registered Democrats crossed over to vote against him in the GOP runoff. He never said a word. He stood up and excused himself to the back of the bus. He knew the sweat and toil of coming literally from out of nowhere to come so close to beating one of the most establishment of Establishment senators, Thad Cochran, was being stolen from him right in front of his eyes.
I moved to the front of the bus with Larry the driver for the final 90 miles or so back to McDaniel’s campaign base in Hattiesburg. He emerged from the back with a bag over his shoulder. He grabbed his “lucky” basketball and got off the bus. A bevy of security guards shepherded him into the hotel.
Hours later, he delivered a fiery speech in front of supporters and vowed to fight on.
That fight brought us to an event center on Bush Dairy Road (one that will remain nameless in these pages until they settle up a substantial financial debt owed to this newspaper for advertising that has gone unpaid for more than two years) Tuesday night. By the time I arrived, the die had been cast. There would be no victory speech on this Tuesday night.
When Chris entered the room to applause, he stepped onto the stage and into the waiting arms of his mother Charlotte, whose pain at another grueling loss was evident on her face.
His speech was not fiery and did not have any vitriol. Unlike 2014, he indeed lost this one fair and square. He vowed to continue to fight for those in the room — and every Mississippian — as he continues his quest to rid the country of crony politics, backroom deals and the good-old-boy system.
His message will prevail one day. It will. It was the same message that he and Jack Fairchilds — who gave a heartfelt introduction of his longtime friend — would talk about on that old radio show. A message of limited government and maximum liberty. It’s the message that swept Donald Trump into the presidency and one that must prevail for this country to prevail.
I just hope my friend sticks with it and continues to fight. We need fighters like him. He certainly has taken a bruising over the last four years — but each time he gets up.
Chris spoke to the crowd for about five minutes, then quickly left the building.
I’m sure he went to bed late and planned to sleep even later on Wednesday.
I just wonder if, in the deep recesses of his slumber, he is thanking the Good Lord that Cali and I are no longer living in the neighborhood.
Sean Murphy is editor of the Leader-Call. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.