The Republican primary in Mississippi Tuesday proved how far the establishment will go to keep Tea Party conservatives from gaining victory. In this case, when it couldn’t get enough Republicans to vote for its guy, it appealed to liberal Democrats for help. And thanks to a generous application of “walking around money” to black leaders, they got it.
This was the second time that the 76-year-old incumbent, U.S. Senator Thad Cochran, faced his conservative challenger, State Senator Chris McDaniel. Although McDaniel racked up more votes than Cochran in the first Republican primary, held on June 3, he fell short of getting a simple majority. Thus, a runoff was necessary.
Mississippi is one of those States with “open” primaries. Thus, the only people who weren’t allowed to vote in the Republican runoff were those who had already voted in this year’s Democratic primary. That opened the door to get the votes of a lot of folks who under normal circumstances would never dream of voting for a Republican. But the circumstances in Mississippi this time were anything but normal.
In six terms in the U.S. Senate, Cochran had done absolutely nothing to distinguish himself. He was the classic “go along to get along” politician, who never met a subsidy or pork barrel appropriation he didn’t like. Sure, he described himself as a conservative — what politician from Mississippi doesn’t? But when the crucial votes were counted, he was always on the side of the establishment. No wonder members of the liberty movement were so eager to see him replaced.
After his near-defeat in the original primary, Cochran’s supporters realized they couldn’t count on getting enough Republican votes to see their man achieve victory. If they were going to grab the golden apple — and all of the perks, benefits and Federal dollars that would mean — they’d need a ton of Democrat votes. So they devised a plan to get them.
Here’s how The New York Times described what happened next:
The 76-year-old senator ran a largely sleepy campaign until the primary on June 3, when he was edged out by Mr. McDaniel but won enough votes to keep his opponent from outright victory. Mr. Cochran, who is seeking his seventh term, used the past three weeks to turn out Democratic voters — especially African-Americans — to make up that deficit.
The Cochran campaign boasted about all the Federal dollars the Senator had helped bring to Mississippi. Campaign ads warned that the bounty would stop if McDaniel won. Oh, and it didn’t hurt that there was suddenly plenty of money available to pay for those “get out the vote” efforts, especially in the black community.
Sadly for supporters of the liberty movement, the plan worked. Cochran collected enough Democrat votes to win. As McDaniel put it, “There is something a bit strange, there is something a bit unusual about a Republican primary that’s decided by liberal Democrats.”
Strange and unusual, yes. But illegal? No. It should come as no surprise that the Republican establishment was willing to do whatever was necessary to secure victory for its candidate.
But Mississippi wasn’t the only place where the Tea Party failed to achieve victory this week. There was also an important primary in Oklahoma last Tuesday, where conservative champion Tom Coburn had announced that he was retiring from the Senate with two years left on his term.
A number of candidates filed for the nomination, but the race boiled down to two choices. The establishment favorite was James Lankford, a two-term Congressman who was part of the Republican leadership in the House.
Lankford’s main opponent was Tea Party favorite T.W. Shannon, the State’s first black Speaker of the House of Representatives. Shannon had the support of several national Tea Party groups, including the Senate Conservatives Fund. Both Sarah Palin and Texas Senator Ted Cruz had come to Oklahoma to campaign for him.
But when the votes were counted, Lankford had won the race. He is a virtually certainty to win the election in November, so the seat will remain in Republican hands. But we’ve lost another chance to get an articulate and charismatic conservative leader on the national stage.
Will the liberal media gloat about these two defeats for conservatives? You bet they will. In fact, they already are. If you want to read the official liberal line, just look at The New York Times. Here’s the perspective it presented on the Mississippi contest:
For months, the contest between Mr. Cochran and Mr. McDaniel was viewed as this year’s main event in the six-year clash between conservative activists and Republican incumbents. Money and celebrities poured into Mississippi from all over the country, with the establishment determined to make the state a Tea Party Waterloo. For their part, conservative groups were hoping for one major victory for the season.
But hope is never a very good strategy. The only way to win elections is to get more votes than the other guy. In two important races this week, we failed to do that.
How much worse will things have to get before a majority of voters will agree to throw those rascals out? I don’t know. But it sure looks like we’re going to find out.
Until next time, keep some powder dry.