Voter Outreach, Cultural Roots Save Cochran In Mississippi

Matt Vespa

6/26/2014 4:47:00 PM - Matt Vespa

Well, the Mississippi primary is over – and Thad Cochran has survived. The aging U.S. Senator from the Hospitality State fought for his political life against State Sen. Chris McDaniel. Public Policy Polling reported that 55% of Mississippi GOP voters wanted someone else to represent them in Washington, D.C. So, how did this guy survive? Is Thad Cochran a Mississippi tick?

Of course, the McDaniel campaign slammed Cochran for hugging the pork barrel too much, but Mississippi has a slightly different electorate; the voters like it when their lawmakers bring home the bacon (via National Review):

Mississippi has always been more culturally than economically conservative, and voters have long rewarded the ability of their lawmakers to send federal dollars back home. Cochran, a former chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, has delivered.

Tradition-bound Mississippi, however, isn’t at the forefront of national political trends. A letter to the editor of the Jackson-based Clarion-Ledger published last month summed up a pervasive sentiment among Republicans in the state. “The pragmatic choice simply boils down to this: if you want to keep the only powerful influence Mississippi has on national issues, vote for Thad Cochran,” a Jackson resident wrote. “He has brought immeasurable benefits to our State through years of developing Congressional muscle. If you want to make Mississippi increasingly irrelevant in the grand scheme of things, vote for Chris McDaniel.”

Eliana Johnson, who wrote the piece, also mentioned the state’s history of having legislators with very long tenures – and that voters rejected term-limits on local politicians, “opting instead for the rewards that come with a lawmaker’s seniority.” That doesn’t necessarily bode well for a successful Tea Party insurgency, hence why Cochran netted 49.5% of the vote after the first bout in this campaign.

But, now the runoff is over. So, why couldn’t McDaniel finish Thad off? In any other state with closed primaries, he would’ve been, but anyone who hadn’t voted in the June 3rd Democratic primary could've participated in the runoff, which meant the Cochran campaign could do outreach into the African-American communities; something he's done before and proved to be his winning move (via NYT c. 1984):

Mr. Reagan's popularity has been a great boon to Mr. Cochran, who has strongly supported the President in Congress. But aides to the Senator say they are relying on more than Mr. Reagan's coattails. Attention to Black Voters

Senator Cochran has bolstered his standing by careful attention to constitutent [sic] services. He has courted black voters by running frequent advertisements on black radio stations across the state, and by fielding a staff that includes several black aides.

''In the campaign, Cochran has actually tried to put some distance between himself and Reagan,'' said Leslie McLemore, a professor of political science at Jackson State University. ''He knows he has to have blacks and Democrats and independents to win in a state like Mississippi.''

In Belzoni, Mississippi, the city’s first black mayor was not shocked that African-Americans were enthused to support Cochran:

The former mayor was not surprised by African-Americans’ enthusiasm for Mr. Cochran. The returns showed that Humphreys County, a predominantly African-American area, went for the senator, 811 to 214.

“Cochran has been very responsive to the community, to the constituency and the state regardless of race,” he said.

Now, Cochran may have remembered this in 1984, but he was aloof in 2014. Additionally, when asked about House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s loss in Virginia, which was nothing short of incredible; he admitted he wasn’t following the race.

Molly Ball of the Atlantic captured this detachment aspect perfectly with her piece about Sen. Cochran, who re-introduced himself to Ball about thirty minutes after she interviewed him.

In the end, McDaniel couldn’t go against the tide of history. It seems Mississippi voters will honor their cultural ties to keep their politicians right where they are, regardless of their quirks.

Chris McDaniel refuses to concede, saying he wants "to be certain that the Republican primary was won by Republican voters." Mississippi has no recount provision in their election laws, so it’s off to the courts where many are saying the McDaniel campaign will make their case on the unenforceable statute that says: “No person shall be eligible to participate in any primary election unless he intends to support the nominations made in which he participates.”

As Jaime Fuller wrote in the Washington Post, this issue is more or less settled, with the 5th Circuit Court ruling that a ballot can only be tossed under this provision if poll workers were able to know that voters were planning on supporting someone else “a few months down the road.”

Additionally, McDaniel is mum about who he voted for after his participation in the 2003 Democratic primary.

Nevertheless, McDaniel supporters can be furious about the leaflets that smeared their candidate. They can be mad that Cochran reached out to voters who aren’t Republicans, but that’s not necessarily illegal; a bit dirty, but nothing resembling explicit ballot stuffing. Cochran just expanded the electorate, which is something the Tea Party has little interest of doing. On the other hand, they're the base of the GOP. As the vanguard of American conservatism, it's not required.

Right now, the general election will see Cochran face off against former Rep. Travis Childers, who’s anti-Obamacare, pro-Second Amendment, anti-abortion, anti-gay marriage, and “disenchanted” with national Democrats.

Will anti-Cochran voters break for him? If they do - and Childers wins- it’ll be the first time a Democrat has represented Mississippi since 1988. Let's see what happens.