The Spectacle Blog

The Elephants Are Out of the Zoo in Mississippi

By on 6.24.14 | 5:09PM

The American Spectator has already predicted a win for Tea Partier Chris McDaniel in today's special Mississippi primary run-off. Senator Thad Cochran's embarrassing loss to McDaniel in the earlier June election (he took 48.9 percent of the vote, McDaniels took 49.5 percent, and the rest went to a spoiler) could already have been his coup de grace. A June 20 poll reported by Politico gave him 52 percent with Cochran at 44 percent.

Although the Mississippi run-off is good for race-horse politics, what truly makes it a national story is the fact that GOP elephants seem to be out of the zoo on this one. According to Fox News:

Mississippi’s Republican Party, which had been one of the most orderly in the country for 40 years, is in the middle of an upheaval and doing it with a national audience. There’s no in-state model for today’s runoff contest between Sen. Thad Cochran, elected to Congress on Richard Nixon’s coattails in 1972 and two-term state Sen. Chris McDaniel. Mississippi has had only one change in its Senate delegation since the Reagan administration, an orderly transfer of power from retiring Sen. Trent Lott to his successor, then-Rep. Roger Wicker.

Mississippi began going red about four decades ago, and things have been fairly calm and conservative since. (Ironically enough, that's about how old Chris McDaniel is and how long Thad Cochran has held a congressional office.) In this race, though, the elephants have gone on rampage—with Cochran urging Democrats to vote for him in a Republican primary run-off, and Tea Partiers vowing to stop them via watchdog action at polling places.

The Mississippi Safari need not be watched for its political snack-value alone. Rather, it points to several possible models for the politics of the future that, unlike most of the political predictions of this election cycle, might actually come true.

The first is what we can politely call "populism," or less politely call an "Eric Cantor effect," depending on which groups of people we intend to make wince. That is to say, these bare-knuckle primaries show that voters were serious this time when they said they wanted to throw the bums out, and their fury with the establishment is emboldened with heavily caffeinated Tea Parties.

The second possibility has received the most discussion. This could simply mean that the Tea Party is, to use the Monty Python phrase, "not dead yet." Wrote Politico:

Win or lose this week, conservatives here predict that Mississippi’s state elections in 2015 will bring another reckoning for the party. The reality that McDaniel has come so close to unseating Cochran may herald a larger-scale shift in culture for a state where seniority has long been king.

A third, more nuanced possibility is that state legislators who worked tirelessly after the 2010 Census to gerrymander state districts succeeded a little too well. Many districts nationwide have been squished into shades of red and blue that require a plus-size paint chart to interpret. Retired congressmen and other observers predicted this would push candidates toward the extremes on both sides and move the really ugly fights into primary territory.

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