WASHINGTON, June 25, 2014 — The division in Mississippi’s Republican party is threatening to turn this very red state blue.
76-year-old Thad Cochran won the GOP primary run-off yesterday, defeating Chris McDaniel, who was born the same year Cochran won his first trip to the Senate.
Gentleman Thad, the six-term incumbent, is known for his easy manner and polite relationships. He is a consummate deal-maker, constantly shaking hands, smiling and attending events around the state and the country.
Cochran stands in sharp contrast to his 41-year-old challenger, Tea Party-backed Chris McDaniel. McDaniel is a fighter, a strict constitutionalist, and is highly critical of what he calls Cochran’s “old school Washington ways.”
McDaniel squeaked a victory in the original primary, but with neither side winning 50 percent of the vote, the contest went to a run-off.
Cochran appeared to rely on those old school ways to win yesterday. He reportedly called in heavy favors from across the state, including from Democrats. He brought out voters in droves, shattering turnout expectations, primarily from “traditionally Democratic areas,” including from African American voters.
Mississippi has an open primary, meaning you do not have to be a registered Republican to vote in the Republican primary, or a registered Democrat to vote in the Democratic primary. You cannot, however, vote in both.
Mississippi is one of the poorest states in the nation, and is heavily dependent on federal funding. McDaniel campaigned on a platform of reducing federal aid and increasing state control over its own budget.
Cochran, on the other hand, reminded the electorate of his track record in bringing federal funding to Mississippi and his backing of Head Start and health centers in lower-income areas. Cochran supporters also told voters that McDaniel was planning to cut food stamps and school funding.
Another boost for Cochran came from funding. According to Federal Election Filings, Cochran raised $4,016,316 to McDaniel’s $1,541,592. Among Cochran’s backers was Michael Bloomberg, who gave $250,000 to Cochran’s Super PAC and another $250,000 to the Defending Main Street PAC which gave $150,000 to Cochran during the runoff.
McDaniel has not yet conceded, and his after-vote speech was anything but conciliatory. He cited “dozens of irregularities” in the vote and promised to fight on. “We are not prone to surrender, we Mississippians. Before this race is over we have to be absolutely certain the Republican primary was won by Republican voters.”
McDaniel further said, “There is something a bit strange, there is something a bit unusual about a Republican primary that’s decided by liberal Democrats,” and accused Cochran of abandoning his principles.
His statements have led supporters to start a “write in Chris” movement.
The question now is whether Cochran and McDaniel can reach a compromise that will avoid splitting the GOP vote in November.
Travis Childers, the Democratic candidate who has up to now been seen as a long-shot in the deeply conservative state, stands to benefit most from the angry GOP divide. If those “traditional Democratic voters” return to the Democratic Party in November, and the GOP vote is divided between Cochran and McDaniel, the Republican Party could face its first serious challenge in the state. The mobilized African American voters who showed up for the Republican primary provide another glimmer of hope for Childers.
While it’s not blue yet, Mississippi is looking mighty purple.