Cochran Wins; Tea Party Cries Foul

Thad.Cochran.Chris_.McDaniel.000Looks like the big Tea Party comeback of 2014 began and ended with House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s surprising loss to David Brat. Last night in Mississippi, GOP establishment candidate Thad Cochran eked out a victory over neo-Confederate-friendly Tea Party candidate Chris McDaniel, a 41-year-old attorney and talk radio host, in a runoff election. The 76-year-old incumbent, running for his seventh Senate term, beat out his opponent by a bit more than 6000 votes.

One has to appreciate the irony of Cochran’s campaign strategy in the runoff. His victory hinged, in part, on getting African-American voters to the polls. Although only about 10 percent of Mississippi’s African-American voters are registered Republicans, the state’s open primary system permits voters to cross party lines. It appears that the strategy may have worked because turnout was up in predominately black counties.

Hint to Tea Party for future elections: Perhaps it’s not a good idea to publicize the fact that you’ll be sending out a small army of poll watchers to majority black precincts to “monitor” voting activities, especially on the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer. It smacks of voter intimidation and might be enough to incite voters who were otherwise inclined to stay home out to the polls just to flip you the bird.

As Ed Kilgore of Talking Points Memo opines, Cochran’s victory could have only happened in Mississippi and is attributable to a number of factors other than increased African-American turnout. Mississippi relies heavily on federal largess, and Cochran, rather than trying to out-conservative McDaniel, played up his proven ability to bring federal dollars back to the state. In those coastal areas that depend on military spending, Cochran saw both turnout and his percentage of the vote improve.

Kilgore also suggested that Cochran’s appeal to Democrats, who weren’t expecting a Senate victory in November no matter which Republican won the primary, proved successful. Given a choice between Cochran and the more extreme McDaniel, who vowed to eschew pork-barrel politics, Cochran probably didn’t look that bad. A few of the  voter remarks published in the New York Times seem to confirm that Cochran was wise not to go mano-a-mano with McDaniel over their respective conservative credentials and to cast McDaniel as an extremist:

Jeanie Munn, who lives in Hattiesburg, said Mr. McDaniel “represents a threat to the state.” She cited a vote he cast in the State Senate against a new nursing school building at the University of Southern Mississippi.

Roger Smith, a black Democrat who said he was being paid to organize for Mr. Cochran, said, “I don’t know too much about McDaniel other than what McDaniel’s saying: that he’s Tea Party, he’s against Obama, he don’t like black people.”

“You’re going to get one of the white guys in there,” he said. “You got to make a choice.”

…Heath Kleinke, 38, held his 4-month-old baby and said he wanted her to get a good education in Mississippi, something he believed would be made more difficult if Mr. McDaniel were to make good on his proposal to cut federal funding.

“The fact that he openly criticizes Thad Cochran for talking to Democrats riled me up from the beginning,” added Mr. Kleinke, a graphic designer.

McDaniel isn’t taking his defeat graciously. Thus far, he’s refused to concede. In his non-concession speech last night, McDaniel blamed liberal Democrats and “dozens of irregularities” for his defeat and vowed to ensure that “the sanctity of the vote is upheld.”  He further vowed “to fight on until it was confirmed that the contest for the party’s Republican nomination was determined in fact by Republican voters” even though Mississippi law allowed Democrats who did not vote in the original June 3rd primary to crossover and vote in the runoff.

Still, other than to play Sore Loserman and yell “voter fraud,” it’s not clear how McDaniel might challenge the results of Tuesday’s election. Mississippi law has no provisions for the recount of a runoff election, which means McDaniel would have to challenge the legitimacy of certain votes. J. Christian Adams, the lead attorney for a Tea Party effort to ensure that no improper votes were cast in the Mississippi runoff, says he’ll review the hundreds of pages of reports churned out by McDaniel’s league of poll watchers before announcing any decisions. But, as Rick Hasen of The Election Blog points out:

…the idea that the courts are going to come in and subtract an uncertain number of “illegal” Democratic votes cast presumably for Cochran seems most unlikely.  The reason to bring such a suit is to delegitimize Cochran’s win, and to keep McDaniel’s supporters fired up with incendiary talk of a “stolen” election.  That might be good for McDaniel to keep his supporters happy, but it will win him no friends in the Republican establishment if he wants to run for something else going forward.  

Personally, I was happy to see McDaniel go down. While there’s a good argument to be made that, after six terms (36 years!), it was time for Cochran to retire, the last thing Washington needs is another liberal-hating Tea Party fire-breather, a la Ted Cruz, to keep anything constructive from happening in Congress.

I suspect McDaniel won’t go down quietly though. His non-concession speech implies as much:

“As you know today folks there were literally dozens of irregularities reported all across the state and you know why,” McDaniel said. “You read the stories. You’re familiar. You are familiar with the problems that we have. Now it’s our job to make sure that the sanctity of the vote is upheld… And so we will stand with courage. We will stand with judgment. We will stand with integrity and we will stand with dedication.”

What remains to be seen is how strongly McDaniel links his loss to that great Republican bogeyman: voter fraud. That nitwit Sarah Palin is already calling for an investigation into “potential legal violations” (i.e. voter fraud) in the Mississippi runoff election. But the McDaniel campaign laid the groundwork even before the election, claiming the potential for voter fraud almost as soon as Cochran’s campaign announced it was hiring someone to get out the African-American vote. Moreover, the groups McDaniel enlisted to “observe” the polls in black precincts–groups like True the Vote–are among those most likely to associate voter fraud with African-American voters.

A TPM reader notes the obvious: “the GOP openly ties race and voting fraud.” Or at least certain members of the GOP do. And that perhaps is the biggest lesson we can draw from Tuesday’s runoff. Race still matters.

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62 thoughts on “Cochran Wins; Tea Party Cries Foul

      • While what Cochran did is perfectly legal in Mississippi, it’s likely considered unseemly for someone from one party to openly court votes from members of the other party to win a primary. Usually, in these situations, it would be Democrats calling on their members to sandbag the other party’s vote.

        That’s the trouble with open primaries–you can’t keep the riffraff out.

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      • Fair enough. CA has what is called a jungle primary that throws everyone together and the two highest vote getters go into the general election. In some circumstances this means that a general election could be two Republicans or two Democratic politicians fighting each other. In SF, the state assembly seat is between two Harvard educated lawyers named David C who went at each other in the primary and now will do so in the general.

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      • CA has what is called a jungle primary

        Technically, a non-partisan blanket primary.* I hate to be pedantic (or do I?), but the term “jungle” primary, although widely used, seems to me to have a racial undertone (overtone?).
        _________
        *Louisiana was the first to adopt this method, in the 1970s, Washington in 2004, California in 2010, and to date no other states.

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      • I don’t think that is trollish. I think that is the black community of Mississippi voting in their best interest. A McDaniel victory would merely make the state almost certain to go Republican instead of absolutely certain.

        Now I want to watch the old Robin Hood with Erroyl Flynn and Olivia De Havilaand. This is the best Robin Hood.

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      • 6:29 pm

        I hate to be pedantic (or do I?)

        No, you don’t. ;)

        the term “jungle” primary, although widely used, seems to me to have a racial undertone (overtone?).

        Since there are jungles in South America, Africa, and Southeast Asia, I think you are stretching on this one.

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      • Scarlet,

        Traditionally in the US, jungle’s been a code for black. Concrete jungle, jungle ball. I’m not saying there’s necessary a connection in this case, just that it has an echo of that, so I think it’s just better avoided* since there’s actually a technically a correct term. If the technical term is too many syllables for daily usage, I think Saul’s melee primary has a better ting anyway.
        _______
        *I’ll put it this way, I avoid the term in class, just to keep life easier.

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      • Saul,
        Trolling is a technique used to get other people riled up.
        In many venues, the purpose of trolling is to cause “unforced errors” — make someone angry enough, and they’re bound to do something stupid.

        Here, you’re getting a 3 in 1:
        1) Black Democrats actually get to be Important in Mississippi (fun PR for the Black Media Network [not incorporated], and a great reminder to folks to go out and vote).
        2) Republicans and Media BigMen (like Palin and Limbaugh) talking about how blacks stole the election.
        3) Tea Party folks, who can be counted on to say stupid and funny things.

        This is why you have some of the best liberals showing up to help Cochran keep his seat. Because the anger is damn funny, and because it makes excellent pr. Mississippi may be hopeless, but I assure you Virginia and North Carolina are not.

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  1. FWIW, my twitter feed had a bunch of folks who supported McDaniel and almost all of them are saying that he needs to get over it because “open primary” means “open primary.” I don’t think McDaniel is going to get very far here.

    As far as open primaries go, this is the sort of result I can get behind. Not because the more “moderate” guy got elected, but because the Democrats who crossed over to vote did so because they preferred the guy they voted for. Where I start leaning more towards closed primaries is where they cross lines to pick the guy they can’t stand on the basis that it increases the chances of their preferred party winning the general.

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    • FWIW, from the research I’ve seen, people tend to cross over to vote for a preferred candidate, and voting strategically for a despised candidate is rare, although there’s a popular belief that it’s common. My interpretation is that people are wary of the idea that Mr. Despicable isn’t electable, so they’re nervous about helping put him in the general election.

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    • The one real Tea Party friend I have has posted two or three things about how McDaniel should soldier on and push for an investigation of irregularities and illegal voting activity. Her argument is that even the chairperson of the Mississippi Democratic Party thinks there was some kind of irregularities going on (or, as Sarah Palin would say, “voting shenanigans”) and is calling for the integrity of the voting process to be protected.

      Of course, the Democratic chairperson is also delusional enough to believe that the Democratic nominee has a good chance of winning if he’s up against McDaniel. Yeah, right.

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      • . . . McDaniel should soldier on and push for an investigation of irregularities and illegal voting activity. Her argument is that even the chairperson of the Mississippi Democratic Party thinks there was some kind of irregularities going on (or, as Sarah Palin would say, “voting shenanigans”) and is calling for the integrity of the voting process to be protected.

        They just need more voter ID laws; McDaniel’s loss proves it!

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      • That’s probably not delusional. That’s like a coach telling his team they can win. It’s about morale, motivation, and the like.

        He might be delusional, but even coldly rational he’d go fire up the troops anyways and act like it was all possible. It’s his job.

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  2. 1) I don’t think it’s appropriate for Democrats to vote in a Republican primary. Having said that…

    2) The way to stop them is to change the law, not to complain afterwards.

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    • Realistically, all you can really do legally is prevent folks from voting in both primaries. Nothing can stop a Dem from registering as a Rep or vice versa. And of course you can vote for whoever you want in the general. Good way to mess up the pollsters/prognostigators.

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    • 1) I don’t think it’s appropriate for Democrats to vote in a Republican primary.

      Mutatis mutandis?

      I’m inclined to agree. It was over a half century that the report “Toward a more responsible two party system” was released, and all we’ve done is move toward a mess responsible two party system, in part due to opening up primaries.

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      • Mutatis mutandis?

        Correct, I don’t think its appropriate for Democrats to vote in the Republican primary either. I only used my example because it related directly to the topic.

        mess responsible two party system

        Freudian slip?

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      • I can’t get behind that. in Mississippi, the republican primary is the election that decides who the winner will be, and the general is just a formality. By saying “I don’t think dems should vote in the republican primary”, you’re basically saying that you don’t think a significant chunk of actual voters should have any say in their representative, for reasons of theoretical fairness toward abstract political identities. With the Mississippi case in particular, the chunk of voters that wouldn’t get a vote is a minority population with a strong history of disenfranchisement.

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      • The thing that gets me is that open primaries basically make the political parties incoherent. The point of a primary is for a party to nominate a candidate, and the point of parties is to nominate candidates. If party membership and primary voting are unrelated, then what exactly are the parties for? Its just “gGreen Must Fight Purple” isn’t it?

        Democratic voters in red states have exactly the same ability to alter the election results as any other voter – basically none.

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      • , by participating in the open primary, democratic voters caused the more liberal candidate to win. The fact that the more liberal candidate still has an R after his name doesn’t mean the dem voters didn’t have a say.

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      • open primaries basically make the political parties incoherent.

        Yes, but in the U.S. we think we don’t like parties. We like candidate-centered politics. Of course the vast majority of us, even nominal independents, are in fact overwhelmingly committed toward one party or the other. But we tell ourselves it’s not so much that we like parties, but those guys always no nominate such terrible candidates.

        It may be slightly more than Green vs. Purple. Americans do tend to emphasize their ideology, if not their party identity, and there is enough overlap between parties and ideology–although nothing like in a European context–that they choose their side and hate the other side for a reason.

        But as far as allowing the parties to have real coherence, that’s undermined by a combination of the two party system, by self-nomination of candidates in the primaries, and by open primaries, so it’s a pretty deep structural problem. But most of us don’t recognize incoherent parties as a problem, even as we complain about Congress being disfunctional. We dream of Washington’s politics without faction, of Congressmembers setting aside party differences and working across the aisle (although it’s generally the other side we want to do the crossing).

        So as much as we are dour about politics, it’s because we have a rather naive and romantic view about it, and the reality doesn’t live up to our expectations.

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      • James,
        most of the Republicans around here aren’t so bad (Wander excepted. Leaving the country for Russia while you’re supposed to be campaigning…)… I’ve voted for them when they’ve deserved it. But I can’t vote for a Republican for the legislature, because “the other republicans” really suck.

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      • You shouldn’t have a representative; you should have a party. Individual representatives that create weak parties fragment responsibility. So no matter what happens in Washington, there’s no effective way to hold anyone responsible. “My” rep, even when I’m peeved at my party, is rarely the problem (E. Cantor being a rare exception).

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      • I agree, , the framers were being weirdly idealistic with their rejection of parties as a structural element of governance. It’s natural to form political affiliations around shared interests and values. District representation should fill an ombudsman role, like the current constituent services thing reps do. Geography can constitute a legitimate facet of “shared interests” but only weakly and mostly around pork. Besides, gerrymandering sort of blows shared geographical interests all to hell anyway.

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  3. I’ll be interested to see how Cochran acts toward the black community going forward. Though I doubt they would poll it, I would also be really interested to know how Cochran does among blacks in the general election. No doubt most will vote for Childers, but I want to see if there is any positive feedback loop here.

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  4. As a contrast, New Jersey has a closed primary. However, if one is not a member of a political party, one can declare himself at the polls and immediately vote in that party’s primary.

    If someone wishes to change political parties, he must file the proper paperwork 55 days before the primary election in order to vote in his new party’s primary.

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  5. Meh,
    What do you think is going to happen when Cochran says “I’ve been bringing home the pork for decades, now my opponent wants to end that. Cross the party lines and defeat him for me and I’ll bring more pork.”

    Party smarty. If there’s one thing the american electorate can agree on is “don’t cut my pork”.

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    • Well, given that reminding voters how effective he’s been in bringing federal money back to the great state of Mississippi was part of his successful runoff strategy, it’s a good bet that he’ll do the same in the general. It’s not like the Democrat has a chance of winning short of a miracle anyway. Winning the primary was the big prize.

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  6. New definition of chutzpah:

    Have your henchman break into a courthouse where election ballots are stored, and then complain about “irregularities”.

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  7. McDaniel still has yet to concede and is doubling down on the “stolen” election meme:

    http://talkingpointsmemo.com/livewire/chris-mcdaniel-election-law-concede-thad-cochran

    Apparently, he’s not a very good lawyer because he doesn’t understand the meaning of the court ruling that determined the law requiring people to vote for the same person in the general election as they did in the primary is completely unenforceable.

    What a whiner!

    And of course the always classy Rush Limbaugh chimed in on the matter today, describing the African-Americans who voted for Cochran as “Uncle Toms.” The right wing outrage machine is working overtime on this one.

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