Mississippi appears headed for a runoff in its donnybrook of a GOP Senate primary. That’s bad news for the Republican establishment, good news for the tea party – and cause for Democratic hope in November, despite the state’s deep-red hue.
Tea party-backed state Sen. Chris McDaniel leads six-term Sen. Thad Cochran by just over 2,000 votes, with 99.5 percent of precincts reporting as of Wednesday morning. More important, with a third candidate taking a sliver of the vote, neither of the top two candidates won a majority. If that result holds, Mr. McDaniel and Senator Cochran will go head-to-head in a runoff June 24.
“In a runoff it is hard to see how McDaniel is not a slight favorite, as his supporters are driven by something Cochran’s aren’t – excitement,” says Republican strategist Ford O’Connell. “Runoffs usually entail a much lower turnout. Therefore the candidate whose core supporters have more intensity tend to win.”
And the tea party is all about intensity. In addition, Cochran has appeared tired, especially compared with the youthful McDaniel. Cochran declined to debate McDaniel.
If McDaniel wins the runoff, Democrats will have a rare – if slight – chance of winning a Republican-held seat in a cycle that generally favors the GOP.
Democrats recruited former Rep. Travis Childers, a Blue Dog Democrat who held a solidly Republican House seat from 2008 to 2010, precisely in the hopes that McDaniel would beat Cochran.
Democrats are desperately trying to keep control of the Senate and have far more vulnerable seats than do the Republicans.