The Republican primary to pick a GOP Senate candidate in Mississippi was a nail-biter last month, when neither sitting Republican Senator Thad Cochran nor his far right, Tea Party challenger Chris McDaniel managed to pull off the full 50 percent of the vote needed to secure a win. Weeks later, the two were at it again in Tuesday’s runoff election, with Cochran easily walking away with a victory.
To pretty much anyone who isn’t a Tea Party Republican, the results of the runoff were a clear signal that Tea Party is wearing out its welcome. Rumors of massive decadence by movement leaders, who otherwise claim to be fiscal hawks for other people’s money, and the paralyzing rigidity on their embracing of guns and liberty while rejecting health care, marriage equality and immigration reform have many turning back to the mainstream (in comparison) conservative of the original GOP leaders. New York Senator Chuck Schumer, a Democrat, declared that the Cochran victory was a sign that Americans were fed up with the Tea Party brigade.
“Mainstream Republican conservatives like [Arizona Senator] John McCain are going to have a more ascendant hand to the hard-right Republicans who have dominated the party the last three or four years,” said Schumer in reference to his Republican colleague, according to the Wall Street Journal, citing the results as, “mainstream Republicans are saying, ‘Enough already.’”
“I think mainstream Republicans are saying ‘enough already, if we keep following the tea party we’re going to follow like Thelma and Louise over a cliff,’” said Schumer.
The extreme right isn’t nearly ready to pack it in, though. They are declaring McDaniel’s loss not as a mandate against the Tea Party, but a sign of voter shenanigans. Showing signs of the respect for the Democratic process that is a hallmark of the party that has spent the last few years dismantling voter rights, Cochran supporters are now claiming that the loss was the result of Democrats showing up in droves to put Cochran back on the general election ballot.
The idea that Democrats stole the election is a favorite of conservative talk show hosts. Iowa’s Steve Deace wrote a scathing diatribe against “dirty tricks,” blaming Cochran’s loss solidly on the mainstream GOP recruiting minority voters. “It turns out the Republican Party can mobilize minority voters after all — by despicably playing the race card against its own base,” writes Deace. “In a kamikaze move that could’ve been sponsored by the Hemlock Society, a ruling class desperate for a Pyrrhic victory decided it was better to save fossilizing Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran than preserve whatever scintilla of party unity remains.”
Voter turnout was definitely up from the primary itself, as the New York Times reports, in many cases up as much as 34 percent over primary day. That elevated turnout, as the Tea Party suspected, favored Cochran as well. “[W]eeks of additional mobilization efforts and publicity drove turnout even higher. Perhaps as a result, both candidates tended to perform better in their strongholds than they did in the initial primary,” reports The Times. “The result was that Mr. Cochran ran extraordinarily well in the traditionally establishment-friendly and heavily black Mississippi Delta, as well as around Jackson, while Mr. McDaniel made gains in the whiter and populist eastern half of the state.”
But the paper dismisses the idea that it was the black voters themselves that changed the election results, concluding, “In terms of total votes, however, the preponderance of the increase in turnout most likely came from white voters. Turnout increased by 15.5 percent in the counties where black voters make up less than 20 percent of eligible voters, about the same as the 15.7 percent increase in turnout statewide.”
In Mississippi, it is technically illegal to vote for someone in a primary that you do not intend to vote for in the general election, which allows the Tea Party to both push the boogeyman of voter fraud and not so subtle racial issues that have long energized the movement. The question is whether those far right Republicans who have been alienated by this schism will be ready to forgive and forget by the time November comes around, or if they will hold a grudge and sit this cycle out.
If it is the latter, there may actually be a Senate race in Mississippi this year.
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