With 99.7 percent of the results in from the Mississippi Republican senatorial primary, a runoff is inevitable.
As it stands, with two counties still not fully reporting, Tea Party favorite Chris McDaniel is in the lead with 49.5 percent and 153,608 votes to incumbent Senator Thad Cochran’s 48.9 percent or 151,715 votes. The other 1.6 percent, the game changer, goes to the distant Thomas Carey, whose 4,803 votes pushed the other two into a runoff election. The runoff, on June 21, will be extremely difficult for Cochran to win. There are several reasons why.
First, Carey’s votes were more than likely made in protest against McDaniel, Cochran, or both. Assuming turnout stays about the same, Carey’s voters could stay home for the runoff, thus giving the victory to McDaniel. They could also choose to come out and vote. Looking at Carey’s platform and style—very Tea Party-esque—his voters will more than likely switch to McDaniel. And remember, based on last night’s numbers, even if the Carey vote splits between Cochran and McDaniel, McDaniel still wins the runoff. It will be extremely difficult for Cochran to identify and curry enough votes to edge out McDaniel.
Also, many have accused Cochran of trying to get Democrats out to the polls to vote for him. Whatever their impact was last night, it will be negated because runoffs are restricted to registered Republicans.
In addition to the numbers, the candidates’ respective levels of enthusiasm need to be examined. Many Cochran supporters are deflated and embarrassed after coming in second. Cochran’s refusal to speak last night could embarrass and dishearten them further. Meanwhile, in the McDaniel camp, the candidate gave a rousing speech to his supporters vowing to win “either tonight or three weeks from now.” The Tea Party in Mississippi is organized and ready to take on the establishment and Cochran. The clear momentum in the race is behind McDaniel.
Lastly is the issue of support. Many of the usual conservative suspects have endorsed McDaniel, like Sarah Palin, Rick Santorum, Laura Ingraham, and organizations like the ACU, Eagle Forum PAC, and the Citizens Fund. Cochran draws his support from several members of the powerful Barbour family, Mississippi Conservative PAC—which has been hit with a major FEC complaint—the Chamber of Commerce, and the National Republican Senatorial Campaign (NRSC). While the NRSC is usually neutral in primaries, they vowed to continue fighting for Cochran this morning. Some have suggested that the NRSC’s money would be better put to use in other, more important states. In addition, the typically pro-establishment American Crossroads announced they are staying out of Mississippi, which could be a blow to Cochran.
In the end, though, it is voter turnout, not money or groups, that matters. Looking at all the variables, things look bad for team Cochran. Few, if any, voters are expected to switch from McDaniel to Cochran. Look for a decent McDaniel victory come runoff day. The Tea Party is not dead yet.