It's Not Over Yet: Bitter Mississippi Primary Headed for Run-off

Wednesday, 04 Jun 2014 02:02 AM

By Cathy Burke

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The bitter primary battle between six-term senator Thad Cochran and his tea party challenger Chris McDaniel is not over yet — neither man appeared to get the required 50 percent in Tuesday's primary and now they look set to have to face each other again in a run-off.

Third candidate Thomas Carey appeared to have netted just enough votes to deny
both Cochran and McDaniel victory in the race which has been mired in
mudslinging.

Now they seem likely to have to go at it again on June 24 — and have three more weeks to slap each other around.

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Even with more than 99 percent of votes counted, the final result was unclear. McDaniel was in front by a nose with 49.6 percent of the vote, compared to Cochran's 48.8 percent. Just 2,373 votes separated the two rivals out of more than 300,000 cast. Carey had just 4,729 — a mere 1.6 percent — but that looked certain to be enough to deny either of the main candidates the required 50 percent that would have ensured victory.

In the Magnolia state’s other election night intrigue, incumbent Rep. Steven Palazzo won his primary after a much closer-than-expected rematch with former Democrat Gene Taylor, whom Palazzo defeated in the general election in 2010.

In the premier contest, courtly party veteran Cochran, 76, was in the toughest battle of his career against the charismatic, 41-year-old McDaniel, who roared from the right with the support of high-profile conservatives including Sarah Palin and Rick Santorum, and money from outside groups such as the Club for Growth, hoping to snatch a trophy victory of the primary season.

It turned into the tea party's one realistic chance of wresting a nomination from the establishment GOP — but now McDaniel's supporters seem to have to wait an agonizing extra 21 days to see if they can snatch victory.

McDaniel made Cochran’s long tenure inside the Beltway a main issue, and sounded a call for change, hitting heavily Republican areas of the state on Monday to succeed at what tea party-backed challengers failed to pull off in Texas, North Carolina and Kentucky — toppling a Senate candidate backed by the GOP establishment.

"We have a conservative vision for Mississippi. We are going to Washington to fight for our values," the state senator said. "We are going to do it in a bold and courageous manner."

Going into Tuesday’s vote, the race was a dead heat, with opinion polls saying it was too close to call — and they got it right as the lead changed hands several times as the count went on deep into the night.

The GOP establishment poured more than $12 million into the race to bolster Cochran, a former chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee who has brought billions of federal dollars to the state during his 41 years in Washington.

He had the backing of party elders, including former Gov. Haley Barbour and current Gov. Phil Bryant.

But Cochran struggled on the campaign trail, refusing to debate with McDaniel and appearing disinterested in a tea party surge.

The race took an unexpected and bizarre turn last month when local blogger Clayton Kelly — a McDaniel supporter — allegedly snuck into a nursing home to take a picture of Cochran's wife, Rose, who has suffering from dementia for more than a decade.

Kelly posted the photo on his blog as part of a video allegedly designed to fuel rumors of an affair between Cochran and his executive assistant.
 
Three men have been arrested including Mississippi Tea Party Vice Chairman Mark Mayfield, who has extensive ties to McDaniel.

Cochran's campaign seized on the arrests, airing a television commercial claiming the arrested men are McDaniel's backers, and saying, "Rise up and say, 'no' to dirty politics."

McDaniel has said he his campaign knew nothing of the incident until after it occurred, and pressed ahead undeterred with his campaign to rattle the Old Guard.

The GOP nominee will be the favorite in the reliably red state. Former Rep.Travis Childers rolled to an easy victory in the Democratic primary, piling up 74.6 percent of the vote with 88.3 percent of the precincts reporting.

In the House contest, with all precincts reporting, incumbent Palazzo won with 50.5 percent over Taylor’s 43 percent.

Taylor, a former congressman who served 11 terms as a "Blue Dog" Democrat starting in 1989, switched parties to take on Palazzo in the GOP primary.

Tuesday’s primary was the first time Mississippi used its new voter ID law after a long political fight, the Clarion-Ledger noted. Voters were required to show a driver’s license or other government-issued photo identification to cast ballots.

There was just one report of a voter turned away for lack of ID, the newspaper said.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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