In the aftermath of Rep. Eric Cantor’s primary defeat at the hands of an insurgent Tea Party/constitutional conservative challenger, our attention turns to another race in which a member of the GOP’s Beltway Establishment is having his lights put out.
And if Cantor was out of touch with the times and needed to be taught a lesson, what of Thad Cochran?
As of May 14, Cochran has spent $3,484,261 to Chris McDaniel’s $1,027,308, and yet Cochran narrowly lost, 49-48, in the first round of the Mississippi GOP primary for Cochran’s Senate seat. McDaniel was just 2,000 votes short of a majority which would have finished Cochran, so in two weeks there will be a runoff.
Cochran can’t win that runoff, mind you. He’s going to lose worse than he did in the first round. The challenger’s strength always grows when people think he has a chance, he has greater name recognition with the public, runoff turnout is always lower and the race always favors candidates with more momentum and intensity of support and McDaniel’s coffers are filling with dollars from all over the country.
So what’s the incumbent’s strategy? You might have seen it last week…
Acknowledging that they face a difficult fight against McDaniel, Cochran allies sketched out the beginnings of a plan to take on the 41-year-old litigator.
Several advisers, speaking candidly and anonymously, said that competing in the June 24 runoff will likely require the campaign to shift resources from television and radio advertising into pure get-out-the-vote operations. It will mean raising concerns about McDaniel’s electability and delivering an issue-driven message about what McDaniel’s policy views would really mean for Mississippi.
Riskiest of all, it will involve reaching out to casual voters – including independents and Democrats – to swell the electorate with Mississippians who may not have participated in this week’s first round of voting. Mississippi allows crossover voting in primaries, though voters who already cast ballots in Democratic primaries this week are barred from participating in the runoff.
Former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, the onetime national Republican Party chairman who is one of Cochran’s foremost champions, said the senator will dislodge McDaniel supporters and “expand the electorate” with a focus on kitchen-table issues. He said it was essential for Mississippians to understand what McDaniel’s anti-government, anti-appropriation views would mean in practice – starting with the state legislator’s stated opposition to federal education spending.
What kind of Republican is Thad Cochran, that he would resort to “expanding the electorate” rather than trying to convince the GOP primary voters in Mississippi that he’s worthy of another term?
What “expand the electorate” means is for Thad Cochran to court the black vote by promising free stuff. It’s the most cynical, disingenuous and utterly typical response imaginable to last week’s results.
And it’s absolutely not going to work.
How stupid does Thad Cochran think black voters in Mississippi are? He’s been in office six terms and never gotten more than token support in the black community, and all of a sudden he’s going to swamp McDaniel in a GOP primary election by dragooning black voters by the thousands to replace Republican votes his all-out push for deficit spending for welfare will drive away? Does he really believe those voters will trust him to deliver on those promises?
And how do Cochran’s voters justify continued support for him? If you’re a Mississippi Republican calling yourself a conservative, are you really OK with your candidate spending the next two weeks sounding like Barack Obama in an effort to have Democrat voters decide a Republican primary?
Not to mention Cochran will have to dirty-up Chris McDaniel in order to win. We constantly hear from the GOP establishment how brutal and pointless Republican primary fights open the door for Democrats to win races they shouldn’t. Well, exactly what is this? Cochran painting McDaniel as an extremist and a traitor to his state for wanting to cut off welfare money to Mississippi’s poor (which is actually a narrative I’d love to have thrown at me if I’m McDaniel; my response is if all that swag is so necessary how come Mississippi’s poor are still poor?) is nothing more than his running the Democrat’s campaign for him, no?
And what happens to Cochran if and when Ted Cruz takes Erick Erickson’s advice and rolls into Mississippi to blow Cochran out of the water? Cruz can justify breaking his promise to Mitch McConnell not to work to defeat any GOP incumbents by citing the breach of faith Cochran’s campaign strategy represents with the conservative movement and Republican principles. A couple of appearances by Cruz on McDaniel’s behalf, which would likely bring several other GOP stars into Mississippi to follow, and Cochran is finished.
Thad Cochran ought to quit the race. He ought to do it today, and go out with dignity. And Haley Barbour ought to sit down with McDaniel, bury the hatchet with him and make the best political arrangement he can.
Because if those things don’t happen, McDaniel ought to make it his mission to purge any influence Barbour might have within the Mississippi GOP, once he’s been elected Senator. Good politicians punish their enemies. And Barbour is coming very close to showing himself an enemy of conservatism.