Mississippi's Runoff Defies Conventional Primary Turnout Wisdom

Image: Mississippi's Runoff Defies Conventional Primary Turnout Wisdom U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran, left, and tea party candidate Chris McDaniel.

Tuesday, 24 Jun 2014 08:13 AM

By Melanie Batley

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Tuesday's Mississippi Senate primary runoff between six-term incumbent Thad Cochran and tea party challenger Chris McDaniel may come down to a complex calculus of voter turnout.

According to The New York Times, while conventional wisdom and historical electoral trends would predict that turnout will be low, some factors suggest that this race could be the outlier. Media attention has been intense, voter turnout in the June 5 primary was unusually high, and supporters of each candidate share a dedication to going to the polls.

"All considered, the chances of a meaningful decline in turnout are lower than usual. It is even conceivable that turnout could increase, with two additional weeks of campaigning and mobilization efforts," the Times said.

What's also unusual is that it's unclear which candidate would benefit more from higher turnout, according to the Times. The higher turnout of irregular voters in the first round of voting was what enabled McDaniel, a state senator, to pull off the tie with Cochran, but primary voting stalwarts are more aligned with Cochran.

Nevertheless, a poll Monday showed McDaniel with an 8-point lead over Cochran, another worrying sign for the incumbent.

Meanwhile, after recent losses to the establishment in the battle for control of the GOP, the tea party base is fired up, particularly after its stunning defeat of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor.

"These questions — about turnout, the victor and the tea party's momentum — won't be resolved until Tuesday night, making this one of the more exciting and suspenseful races of the year," the Times said.

State Sen. Michael Watson, a McDaniel ally, told Politico that a victory would be a "game-changer" for the GOP in Mississippi.

"It's not just this United States Senate race," Watson said. "I think it's a dynamic you're going to see continue going forward to redefine the Republican Party in Mississippi."

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