One of the nastiest and closest primary races in the country will end today as Republican voters in Mississippi decide who will be their candidate, and, most likely, due to the very conservative trend in the state, win the Senate seat. The race is a three-way contest between incumbent Senator Thad Cochran, Tea Party favorite State Senator Chris McDaniel, and Thomas Carey. While Carey is extremely distant in the polls, his influence has the potential to trigger a runoff election between Cochran and McDaniel.
Current polling has the race at a dead heat. Real Clear Politics, which takes an average of all the polls, has it at a tie between Cochran and McDaniel at 42.5 percent each. Of the polls averaged, only three list Carey as a choice. Each of those three also has the undecided portion listed as well. These undecided voters, plus Carey’s influence, will have major consequences.
Historically, as it is been documented in several books, including The Timeline of Presidential Elections, How Campaigns Do (and Do Not) Matter, by Robert S. Erikson and Christopher Wlezien, undecideds have little effect on elections. The authors argue that historically, “relatively few undecided voters during the campaign end up voting, and those that do split 50-50.” Taking the averages of the three polls, Carey gets an average of 3.4 percent, while on average 10.6 percent remain undecided.
Seeing as on average both McDaniel and Cochran are even at 42.5 percent, if you take away the average of Carey at 3.4 percent, that means that out of the 10.6 percent left, 71 percent would have to break one way to avoid a runoff. Historically, this would be unprecedented. Thus, even conceding that many of the undecideds won’t end up voting, it’s looking likely that we’re headed for a runoff on June 21.
Further, at the end of a Chism Strategies Survey, it’s noted that “81% of the remaining Undecideds say that the ‘scandals’ of both camps are equally bad,” in reference to campaign scandals that have embroiled both candidates. This could boost the distant Carey, leaving Cochran and McDaniel even further from the 50 percent mark.
Although Cochran currently has a lead of several points in two of the three aforementioned polls (while losing by one in the other), if pushed into a runoff, McDaniel could siphon off enough of Carey’s voters to pull ahead and win. However, historically, incumbents are overwhelmingly likely to be reelected and Cochran has some major power players on his side, including a majority of the Barbour family, a powerhouse in Mississippi politics. In addition, Cochran’s name recognition combined with overall voter fatigue could lead to a Cochran victory.
Whatever the case, this race is one to watch. Both the establishment and the Tea Party are betting it all on Mississippi.