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Independent Gums Up the Works in Mississippi

The Republican senatorial primary in Mississippi has been of extraordinary interest for a primary in a small state where it is taken for granted that the Republicans will win all the marbles all the time. This was supposed to be the tea party's last stand, with state senator Chris McDaniel attacking six-term Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS) for being too interested in spending and not at all interested in downsizing the federal government. It was the battle of the decade, between a long-entrenched conservative, but establishment, politician and a young right-wing upstart. Nobody even bothered to mention Thomas Carey, a real estate broker from Hernando, MS, who was also in the race. Today, everyone in Mississippi and far beyond, who follows politics will know of Thomas Carey.

With 99.5% of the precincts reporting, the tally is

Chris McDaniel 49.6%
Thad Cochran 48.8%
Thomas Carey 1.6%

If the final results show that no candidate has crossed the 50% mark, there will be a runoff on June 24. That means three more weeks of McDaniel and Cochran bashing each other's brains out. The NRSC now has to decide whether to continue putting money into Cochran's campaign. On the plus side, Cochran is one of them and by far the stronger general election candidate. His campaign is highly porcine. His slogan could be "Pork, boy do I love it" or maybe: "I can bring home the bacon." McDaniel vigorously opposes government spending, even for projects in Mississippi. On the down side for the NRSC, if McDaniel triumphs in the primary despite opposition from the establishment, if he wins the general election, he will owe nothing to the establishment and will be completely uncontrollable in the senate. Think Sen. Ted Cruz with a Mississippi accent.

Historically, runoffs are good for upstart challengers because turnout for runoffs is low and challengers' supporters tend to be more motivated than those of a long-time incumbent.

The Democrats nominated former representative Travis Childers, who is conservative enough that against McDaniel, he actually has a chance, especially if McDaniel were to say something outrageous in the general election campaign. McDaniel once said: "You know, a dollar bill can buy a mansion in Mexico." That is probably not a good way to go after the Latino vote. He also opposes federal spending on hurricane relief, a sensitive topic in a state prone to hurricanes. Most likely, the NRSC will bite its tongue and pull out all stops to help Cochran. However, tea party groups, smelling victory, are going to pour millions into the runoff for McDaniel. It is going to be very bloody.

Childers is probably going to spend the next three weeks in church praying for a McDaniel victory in the primary. There is certainly nothing else useful for him to do until it is over (except maybe do some fundraising in New York or Los Angeles, talking to people who would not normally give him the time of day, let alone big money). If it ends up being McDaniel vs. Childers in the general election, both parties have some tough calls to make. For the Democrats, do they really want to sink a lot of money into a Mississippi Senate race, when incumbent senators Kay Hagan (D-NC), Mark Pryor (D-AR), and Mark Begich (D-AK) are in mortal danger? Still, McDaniel could easily say something that would make Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock blanche and not helping Childers would be wasting a potential pickup. For the Republicans, the calculation is different. While McDaniel would no doubt be a big pain in the Senate, losing this seat would make taking over the Senate much harder. Also, some establishment Republicans might view a McDaniel loss as another weapon in killing off the tea party, which has already cost them half a dozen Senate seats in the last two cycles. The pitch next time would be: "You managed to lose Mississippi for us. Thanks guys. What's next? We lose Utah and Wyoming? Buzz off."

Joni Ernst to Face Bruce Braley in Iowa

Iowa state senator Joni Ernst (R) defeated four other candidates to gain the right to face Rep. Bruce Braley (D-IA) in November for the seat being vacated by retiring five-term senator Tom Harkin. She cleared the 35% hurdle, thus avoiding a state convention. Her first general-election ad is already up. It is about her skills at castrating hogs. While her point is that she knows how to cut pork, this is going to be fodder for the late-night comedians for months. It will certainly get her plenty of attention, but there is a fine line between getting lots of attention and becoming the butt of many jokes. Recent polling gives Braley a lead of about 5 points.

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