WASHINGTON (AP) -- Former presidential contender Rick Santorum and vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin on Thursday began star turns in ads backing the Mississippi state lawmaker challenging longtime Republican Sen. Thad Cochran in next week's Senate primary.
Santorum and Palin were the latest conservative darlings to back Chris McDaniel, whose challenge to Cochran is poised to be one of the few potential success stories for the tea party this election year. Outside groups have poured millions into the race, which illustrates the split within the GOP between rank-and-file activists and establishment-minded operatives and donors.
"I know what it takes to stand up and fight for conservative principles in Washington," Santorum says in one 30-second television ad that the independent Citizens United Political Victory Fund is bankrolling. "Chris McDaniel is a principled, conservative leader who will raise Mississippi's voice and vote your values in the Senate."
Santorum, who served in the Senate with Cochran, did not mention his former colleague in the ad or in a statement announcing his endorsement released Thursday through McDaniel's campaign.
Palin, a former Alaska governor and 2008 Republican vice presidential candidate, was scheduled to campaign with McDaniel on Friday. She says in a 60-second radio ad that McDaniel is "running for the Senate to shake up the way things work up there."
"Mississippians have a chance to send a message to Washington on June 3," says Palin. "Chris McDaniel is the type of guy who will fight for us. He'll fight for our values."
McDaniel's cash-strapped campaign is paying for the ad featuring Palin. His pre-election campaign finance report showed him with almost $238,000 on hand as of May 14 and carrying $100,000 in debts. He has spent $531,000 since April 1.
Cochran's campaign has spent more than $3 million to fend off the challenge from McDaniel and his deep-pocketed allies. Of that, Cochran has spent $1.6 million since April 1 and has $681,000 in the bank.
But much of the money in this race is coming from outside groups.
The anti-tax Club for Growth has now spent more than $2.4 million on ads against Cochran. The grassroots FreedomWorks, the anti-establishment Senate Conservatives Fund and a raft of tea party-aligned groups also have rallied behind McDaniel. Several candidates they backed in other states fizzled or failed, but McDaniel's campaign could give them a shot at redemption if he prevails on Tuesday.
Strategists in both parties expect the winner of the Republican primary to be elected in November's general election.
Cochran's allies are trying to help the 76-year-old senator to win a seventh term. Former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour is backing Cochran, his nephew Henry Barbour is running the pro-Cochran super PAC Mississippi Conservatives, and Henry's brother Austin Barbour is a senior adviser to Cochran's campaign.
Another political scion of Mississippi, former Sen. Trent Lott, lent his backing to Cochran in a 60-second radio ad from Mississippi Conservatives.
"Thad's up for re-election next Tuesday, and I'm proud to support him," Lott says in the ad. "I know that Thad loves Mississippi, and every time we've needed him and called on him, he's been there."
And the group also is paying for yet another television ad calling McDaniel a "personal injury trial lawyer" who routinely missed votes in the state Senate.
And in a separate radio ad that began on Thursday, the group continues its criticism of McDaniel.
"So who is Chris McDaniel really? He's a personal injury lawyer who will say and do anything to win. A state senator who doesn't show up for work. A politician who doesn't tell the truth," the narrator tells voters.
Follow Philip Elliott on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/philip_elliott
Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.