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Cochran Beats McDaniel in Mississippi

To the great relief of the Republican establishment, Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS) defeated tea party challenger Chris McDaniel 51% to 49% in the Republican senatorial runoff yesterday. However, instead of gracefully conceding, McDaniel gave a fiery speech last night promising to challenge the results. Traditionally, the courts are very hesitant to overrule the voters, but it's not over until the fat lady sings, especially if she is a judge.

This has been one of the meanest and most bitter primaries in years. Cochran is an old-school Southern politician, conservative, but polite and courtly to everyone, even to Democrats, with whom he often works on order to get lots of federal money for his poor state. His entire campaign has been based on the premise that he can do more for Mississippi than McDaniel. In contrast, McDaniel's campaign has been about reducing the size and influence of the federal government, and if that means less money for Mississippi, so be it.

In the primary election three weeks ago, McDaniel edged Cochran by 0.8% of the vote, but neither candidate cleared 50%, thus forcing yesterday's runoff. About $17 million was spent on the runoff, virtually all of it coming from out of state. Both establishment groups and tea party groups poured money into the state.

Turnout was much higher yesterday than in the primary itself, which is very unusual. Cochran made a huge pitch to black Democrats to vote for him in the runoff and it worked. Turnout was especially high in areas with large black populations and it favored Cochran heavily. In the 24 counties with a black majority, turnout was up 40%, compared to 16% statewide. This will be the basis of any McDaniel legal challenge. Under Mississippi law, to vote in a partisan primary, a voter has to promise to support his or her party's nominee in the general election. Thus any Democrat who voted yesterday for Cochran and who plans to vote for the Democrat, Travis Childers, in November, broke the law. However, since the November election is by secret ballot, it will be impossible to prosecute anyone. People who voted in the June 3 Democratic primary could, in principle, be prosecuted, but even that is doubtful since a voter could say: "My candidate lost in the Democratic primary and I don't like the winner, so I am voting Republican in the Fall." If McDaniel goes to court, he will claim that Cochran's win was based on thousands of people breaking the law by voting when technically they were not eligible. But proving that some voter was not eligible because he or she plans to vote for the Democrat in the general election will be a tough sell. Statistically, there is no doubt that McDaniel is right, but getting a judge to throw out an election on the grounds that probably a lot of ineligible voters voted will be a tough sell.

Whether it was wise for black Democrats to vote for an elderly conservative Republican is certainly arguable. On the one hand, he will bring home more pork, bacon, and other pig products than McDaniel would have, especially since McDaniel would have no seniority and is against the idea in principle. So Cochran's reelection could bring tangible benefits to the state's poorest citizens. On the other hand, A McDaniel victory would have put the state in play and made it much harder for the Republicans to capture the Senate. A Republican Senate will probably not look kindly on spending federal money to help poor black people. So was it wise for poor black Democrats to vote for Cochran instead of McDaniel? The voters thought so, even if political strategists might have thought otherwise.

For a while this year, the narrative has been: "The establishment strikes back." Then after McDaniel's narrow win in the primary and Eric Cantor's defeat at the hands of an unknown tea party candidate in Virginia, it changed to: "the tea party is alive and kicking." Now it will be: "Maybe the tea party can't win after all." It has been an unusual year so far.

Establishment Candidate Beauprez Wins Colorado Gubernatorial Nomination

In more good news for the Republicans, former congressman Bob Beauprez won a four-way primary for the right to challenge Gov. John Hickenlooper (D-CO) for the governorship of Colorado in November. While that race does not have national implications, one of the candidates Beauprez beat was former congressman Tom Tancredo, a fiery opponent of immigration reform. Had Tancredo won, immigration would have become a major issue in the general election and this would have ginned up Latino turnout. In turn, this would have helped Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO), who is running for reelection against Rep. Cory Gardner (R-CO). With Beauprez on the Republican ticket instead of Tancredo, Udall will not get a big lift from a nasty discussion about immigration.

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