Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran may have eked out an "impressive" win Tuesday over tea party-backed challenger Chris McDaniel in their Republican runoff, but University of Virginia political analyst Kyle Kondik is not writing off the tea party just yet.
"Typically, turnout goes down from a Senate primary to a runoff — and turnout went up, which was a tribute to the Cochran campaign's very concerted and successful effort to run to the middle and attract some Democratic voters to participate in this primary," Kondik, of the university's Center for Politics, told Newsmax.
With more than 98 percent of the vote counted, six-term incumbent Cochran beat McDaniel,
a state senator since 2008, by 50.7 percent of the vote to 49.3 percent.
The runoff was forced when McDaniel beat Cochran in the June 4 primary but did not earn more than 50 percent of the vote.
Part of Cochran's strategy was to increase voter turnout by appealing to Democrats and African Americans who did not vote in the primary. Mississippi voters do not register by party — and Democrats who voted for Cochran on Tuesday but voted three weeks ago in their party's primary were legally barred from voting in the runoff.
A record 318,902 Mississippians voted in the primary.
"The black vote made the difference in Mississippi," Democratic pollster and analyst Doug Schoen told Newsmax in an email. "Republicans voted for McDaniel. Cochran won with Democrats and specifically African Americans."
Schoen noted how embattled Democratic New York Rep. Charles Rangel won a narrow primary victory in the overwhelmingly blue 13th congressional district to assure a 23rd term.
fended off state Sen. Adriano Espaillat, 59, for the second time in two years in a changing district that includes Harlem and parts of the Bronx.
"Rangel's victory in New York was a ratification of old-style machine, ethnic politics," Schoen said.
"The elections today showed how truly difficult it is to beat an incumbent," he added. "They also showed how truly extraordinary was the defeat of Eric Cantor, which more and more looks like a repudiation of the Republican congressional leadership and an out-of-touch incumbent more than anything else."
Cantor, the House majority leader, suffered a stunning defeat in a June 10 Virginia primary race to Dave Brat, a little-known economics professor from Richmond. He immediately resigned, and House Republicans last week realigned its top leadership.
But the McDaniel camp may not take Tuesday's loss laying down. A source close to the candidate told Breitbart News
late Tuesday that he was considering legal challenges to the balloting.
The Magnolia State has long been polarized, politically and racially, and Cochran allies paid key Democratic operatives to help turn out the vote — particularly in districts with large African-American voters.
"We saw that turnout was up all over the state, but the Cochran forces targeted the Democratic counties closer to the Mississippi River — and they were successful in boosting themselves in those places," Kondik told Newsmax in an interview.
"It's not all that much of a different result than the initial primary," he added, contrasting Tuesday's votes with those in the primary: McDaniel won the primary with 49.5 percent of the vote, compared with 49.3 percent Tuesday; Cochran got 49 percent on June 4, versus 50.7 percent on Tuesday.
"It's not a dramatic difference, but it's enough for the incumbent to get over the hump," Kondik said.
"Ultimately, no Senate incumbent has lost a primary this year," he added, considering that Sens. Mitch McConnell in Kentucky and Lindsey Graham in South Carolina recently beat back tea party challengers in their primaries. "It continues to be difficult … for insurgent forces to knock out incumbents."
However, Cochran's win does not mean the tea party's finished, Kondik cautioned.
"It remains impressive that a challenger to a six-term incumbent was able to get 49 percent of the vote twice. You don't want to draw sweeping conclusions.
"If 3,000 people vote differently, McDaniel wins — and, all of a sudden, it's a giant triumph?
"It's such a thin line here that I wouldn't want to draw sweeping conclusions," he said.
"When you have two, straight, real close elections, it's tempting to say that it means that they're larger trends going on," Kondik added. "But I just think that these races were both so close that I would just caution against sweeping conclusions."
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