The Republican Senate primary in Mississippi that has been dubbed one of the nation's meanest races in 2014 could go either way when results are tallied Tuesday night.
In surveying a range of Mississippi Republican leaders, Newsmax found that none is making predictions on the outcome of the contest between six-term Sen. Thad Cochran and state Sen. Chris McDaniel, who is considered to have the best chance of any tea party-backed insurgent against a sitting U.S. senator this year.
"I'd say it feels like Sen. Cochran will get 53 percent," state GOP insider and lobbyist Hayes Dent, a Cochran supporter, told Newsmax. "But if McDaniel pulled it out with just over 50 percent, I wouldn't be shocked, either. That's how close it is."
Evan Alvarez, chairman of the Mississippi College Republicans, said: "You have two great choices here, a senator who has done so much for Mississippi during his 36 years in the Senate and six years in the House, and a challenger who has a solid understanding of the U.S. Constitution. But I can't predict who will win."
Two weeks ago, with his candidacy fueled by an estimated $5 million TV broadside from the Club for Growth, McDaniel held a slight lead in several polls over the veteran incumbent.
But then the primary was rocked by reports of the arrest of blogger Clayton Kelly, a McDaniel supporter, after he gained access to the nursing home that is the residence of Cochran's wife, Rose, who suffers from dementia.
Kelly, who taped a video of Rose Cochran and briefly posted it on his website, was arrested on May 16, jailed, and released on bond a few days ago.
"I told him not to do it," Kelly's wife, Tara, told Slate's David Weigel. "I wouldn't want anyone taking a picture of me in a hospital. But he really wanted to get his name out there as a journalist. And he has gotten his name out there, just not the way he expected. He thought he was getting the scoop."
McDaniel quickly denounced Kelly and emphasized that while the blogger supported him, he had no ties to the campaign. Nevertheless, sympathy was clearly created for Cochran and the senator appeared to have regained his momentum.
A Red Racing Horses poll of likely voters statewide, released on May 30, showed Cochran edging McDaniel by a margin of 42 percent to 41 percent, with 6 percent going to third contender Thomas Carey.
A case can now be made that either candidate gained momentum in the twilight days of the race.
Since Friday, McDaniel has gained publicity after rallies with two favorites of his base, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum. However, Palin's robocall on his behalf brought some complaints for being used to contact voters on Sunday, according to state Republican headquarters.
Cochran has also held rallies where elected officials from Gov. Phil Bryant on down urged a vote on his behalf. In addition, former GOP Sen. Trent Lott of Mississippi, with whom Cochran had disagreements over the years while they served in the Senate together, cut a hard-hitting TV endorsement for his old colleague.
Coupled with the fact that Mississippi has no party registration and that crossover voting from Democrats is likely, about the safest thing one can say about this race is it's anyone's game.
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.
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