On Tuesday, June 24th, Senator Thad Cochran won the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate seat he currently occupies. The nastiest and craziest primary in recent memory apparently deserves an equally crazy ending. While lobbyist Stuart Stevens wrote that the formula for victory was very simple, a look back at the results is fascinating. The Stennis Institute remarked, “[T]he turnout for the runoff election exceeded the primary turnout by 20%, which is an astonishing fact.”
National Review echoed the thought with a similar assessment: “It’s generally agreed that Thad Cochran squeaked out a win in Mississippi last night in part by getting Democrats, especially African Americans, to turn out.” Harry Enten of FiveThirtyEight completed the exhaustive (and fascinating) data-mining showing how Cochran’s victory correlated to black turn-out and later reported that a Cochran victory was not as implausible as pundits initially predicted.
Mississippi State’s Stennis Institute produced numerous post-runoff maps including the one below. The colors show the vote difference between the primary and runoff for each county while the elevation shows the voter turnout.
Change in raw vote numbers from June 3rd primary to the June 24th runoff
Turnout in DeSoto County increased in support of challenger Chris McDaniel but was overshadowed by the dramatic increase in Hinds County in support of Cochran. The author counted 6 counties that shifted from one candidate to the other but the most significant was in Jackson County which netted more than 700 more votes for Cochran.
However, even in counties held by McDaniel, the change in margin of victory greatly favored Cochran who received a net increase in votes in 48 of the 82 Mississippi counties. The Stennis Institute’s full analysis with even more maps is provided in “Mississippi Primary Runoff Election, 2014.”
But how did Cochran expand the voter pool to increase turnout and win the Republican nomination? The days following the election have shown that defining your opponent is critical to energizing potential voters. Negative and misleading attacks are expected from those across the aisle, but Cochran used the tactic effectively against a member of his own party. Consider this flyer that was found in traditionally Democrat precincts and posted by National Review:
Courtesy of National Review
Like the flyer above, a “robocall” in support of Cochran stated similar positions and even implied that Cochran would not block President Obama’s agenda, a significant point that McDaniel expected would increase his support in the reputedly “deep red” state of Mississippi:
If that wasn’t enough, listen to this clip posted by Breitbart and reportedly aired on WMGO radio warning voters that the Tea Party will take away food stamps and “everything we and our families depend on that comes from Washington will be cut”:
Tea Party Republicans are shocked at the Cochran campaign’s attempt to disparage a fellow Republican Party member. The election results and campaign tactics demonstrate the divide between establishment and Tea Party Republicans and will likely shape both the ethic and ideology of future campaigns, especially when facing an ideological purist from within one’s own party.
Cochran friend, classmate, and Ole Miss professor Curtis Wilkie, defending Cochran’s campaign in The Last Southern Gentleman, wrote on the day of the runoff, “In a rare sight for a Republican, Thad is openly seeking help in the predominantly black Mississippi Delta in the closing hours of the campaign.” Bolstering one of McDaniel’s assertions during the campaign that Cochran has never led a conservative fight, Wilkie recalls that “He specialized in agriculture and appropriations and rarely engaged in discussions about heated ‘wedge issues’ such as abortion rights and gun control.”
A week after the election, McDaniel has yet to concede, at least in part, due to reports of voting irregularities which include a 50% increase in voter turn-out in Hinds County. A June 25th Fox News report summarized:
Of particular interest to the McDaniel campaign was the turnout in Hinds County, which Cochran won by nearly 11,000 votes Tuesday. By contrast, Cochran won the county by 5,300 votes on June 3. Just under 25,000 total ballots were cast in Hinds County Tuesday, while 16,640 total ballots were cast on June 3.
On Fox New Channel’s “Hannity,” McDaniel stated that he intends to verify the number that voted in the June 3rd Democrat primary and illegally voted in the Republican runoff.
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