Mississippi’s Thad Cochran drew tea party, Democrat votes in victory


SEVENTH TERM: U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran beat Democrat Travis Childers by a convincing margin to lock up a seventh term in the Senate.

By Steve Wilson | Mississippi Watchdog

One of the most contentious U.S. Senate races in Mississippi ended with a whimper, not a bang, on Tuesday.

U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran trounced Democratic opponent Travis Childers in Mississippi’s general election, winning 370,208 to 228,974, or more than 60 percent of the vote, according to unofficial results.

Cochran drew enough tea party and Democratic votes to make his margin of victory larger than expected. Coupled with an underfunded campaign from Childers, it was enough to send Cochran to Washington for a seventh term.

“I think Cochran’s margin of victory is a combination of a few different factors,” said Kenneth Townsend, assistant professor of political science at Millsaps College. “Travis Childers did not run a particularly strong campaign, and he received basically no support from the national party and the interest groups — both of which are prerequisites to running a viable campaign these days.

“It seems that a lot more of McDaniel’s supporters decided to ‘hold their noses’ in the end and voted for Cochran anyway. It’s interesting to note that the total number of votes Cochran received yesterday was almost exactly the same as the combined vote total of Cochran and McDaniel in the primary runoff this summer.”

Analyzing vote totals from each Mississippi county shows two trends. One was plenty of tea party voters — who voted for Cochran’s primary challenger, state Sen. Chris McDaniel — went ahead and pulled the lever for Cochran despite many stating they’d stay home, write in McDaniel or vote for Childers.

Looking at primary and runoff results from counties where McDaniel was strong, Cochran pulled plenty of votes. In heavily Republican DeSoto County in the north part of the state — which went for McDaniel 63.7 percent in the primary and more than 70 percent in the runoff — Cochran captured 67 percent of the vote with 16,820 votes. That compares favorably with McDaniel’s totals of 9,129 in the primary and 13,758 in the runoff.

CHALLENGER: State senator Chris McDaniel mounted a vigorous challenge to U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran in the primary and runoff elections.

In McDaniel’s home base of Jones County, Cochran captured 56.3 percent of the vote despite losing by 9,578 votes in the primary and 9,906 in the runoff. It was the same story in Wayne County, where McDaniel beat Cochran handily in both races and Cochran carried with more than 54 percent of the vote. Pearl River County — another part of McDaniel’s powerbase that he carried easily in both elections — went for Cochran more than 73 percent. Smith County was in McDaniel’s column in both elections, but was carried by Cochran by more than 67 percent.

Cochran’s outreach to Democratic voters in the controversial runoff — which he won by 7,667 votes in results certified by the secretary of state — added to his victory totals in the general election. In eight counties won by President Barack Obama with 65 percent or more of the totals in 2012, Cochran drew at least 41 percent of the vote in six of those counties.

The vote totals on the GOP side could show the tea party versus establishment civil war may be drawing to a close. Or it could be a matter of simple mid-term trends, when these elections naturally favor Republicans, who took back control of the U.S. Senate and added to their lead in the House of Representatives.

And what of Cochran’s opponent in the primary?

Townsend said McDaniel has a long way to go before he can consider another run at state or national office. McDaniel’s challenge to the election results, which he took the state Supreme Court, embittered many in the Republican ranks.

“I don’t think McDaniel has much of a political future beyond Jones County anytime too soon,” Townsend said. “He has alienated so many necessary allies in the GOP with the way he’s handled things since the summer runoff.

“Although this could change, for now in Mississippi, a viable statewide candidate has to have some support from people who will be unlikely to forgive McDaniel anytime soon. People’s memories can be short, though, so who knows for the longer term?”

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