The long slog of the Mississippi GOP Senate Primary came to a close Tuesday and Senator Thad Cochran beat the conventional wisdom with a win. With almost all of the unofficial vote tallies in Cochran had almost 51% to McDaniel’s 49%. McDaniel won the original primary but failed to get over 50% leading to the run-off. So the question has to be asked how did Cochran pull off the win? The answers are simple. He succeeded in getting moderate Republicans that did not vote in the June 3 primary to show up, maximized his base turnout in the Delta and most surprisingly succeeded in getting African American voters to cross over and vote in the primary.
The Fix has an excellent rundown of how Cochran accomplished this feat here but it can be summed up thusly; in the 24 counties with African American population with 50% or more turnout increased by over 40% and it was Cochran who saw his margins increase in these counties. Mississippi is the most polarized state in the country with 98% of blacks voting for Obama in 2008 compared to a mere 11% of whites. For Cochran to get a strong black vote to back him is impressive considering that ideological and racial polarization is deeply entrenched in the state.
Cochran succeeded in increasing moderate GOP and base turnout. In Cochran’s home base county of Hind’s he increased his vote total by over 7,000 votes. McDaniel’s only increased his turnout in the county by slightly over 1,000. Overall, in the June 3 primary McDaniel garnered 155,040 votes and Cochran received 153,654 votes. This go around Cochran bumped up his vote total to 191,508 votes and McDaniel to 184,815. For you non math majors that means Cochran bumped his vote total up by almost 39,000 votes compared to McDaniel’s 29,000 vote increase in the run-off.
Further, Cochran successfully ignored the its over narrative and allowed outside donors to deliver the money. The campaign successfully used surrogates to court moderate Republican and Democratic votes as evidenced by a Chamber of Commerce ad featuring Brett Favre. Cochran received over $1 million in donation from outside groups which allowed him to invest in his aggressive and successful ground game. McDaniel’s benefited primarily from TV and radio ad spending that was not coordinated with his campaign.
Perhaps the most telling theme of the campaign and certainly most obvious counter-narrative to the media is the GOP is in the throes of a civil war. Cochran bet on incumbency and won. In the wake of Eric Cantor’s loss this is even more telling. Cochran’s theme of bringing home the bacon still resonated in Mississippi, especially with African-Americans. While the state GOP might be evolving into a party more in line with McDaniel’s views the evolution is far from complete. Cochran capitalized on this arguing that seniority in the Senate is more important than “change.” The argumnt resonated with a majority of voters.
Ultimately, Cochran ran a masterful race. His reelection victory is proof that in today’s GOP, at least in certain states, an incumbent can run on incumbency and still win reelection. The conventional wisdom that the GOP is in the throes of a civil war will not change (because the media is in love with this narrative). Mississippi’s primary results go against this conventional wisdom and show that there is far more involved in establishment primary upsets than just general incumbent antipathy.