Following Thad Cochran’s upset and highly unorthodox runoff win earlier this week, some Republicans and non-Republican undoubtedly hoped a mold had been broken making it possible for the GOP to reach out to African-American voters regularly.
Aside from the ugliness associated with the backlash to Cochran’s “crossover” voters, this hopeful thinking underestimates how unusual Mississippi really is. I toted up some reasons at TPM Cafe Wednesday:
Let’s look at the ways the Magnolia State’s unusual character made Thad Cochran’s win possible:
1) Heavy dependence on military spending in coastal counties, where Cochran campaigned heavily during the runoff period and improved both turnout and his percentage of the vote.
2) The justifiably defeatist attitude among Mississippi Democrats that made them a ripe target for Cochran’s audacious attempts to recruit them for a Republican runoff.
3) The lack of party registration, the poor turnout in the June 3 Democratic primaries, and Mississippi’s large African-American population, which together created a pool of winnable Democratic votes for Cochran.
4) The highly visible McDaniel-associated campaign to deplore and even intimidate “crossover” voting, which brought back many bad memories of Mississippi’s notorious resistance to African-American voting rights.
5) The massive trans-ideological support for Cochran among a Mississippi “Republican Establishment” that would be considered hard-core right-wing in most other states.
These factors help explain why Team Cochran deployed the counter-intuitive runoff strategy of not competing with McDaniel for the “most conservative” mantle, but instead emphasizing his pork-producing background, attacking McDaniel as an extremist, and overtly appealing for Democratic (code in Mississippi for African-American) votes.
Is there another state where a Republican could deploy this same strategy and win? It would have to be a heavily GOP state with a sizable defense industry, no party registration, an unusually conservative “Republican Establishment” and a large percentage of minority voters. That pretty much narrows it down to Alabama and maybe Texas. Add in the fact that Cochran had managed to avoid race-baiting for a few decades in a race-obsessed state, and you have a really unique situation.
Had McDaniel won, we might have had the interesting and potentially replicable scenario of conservative voters choosing ideology over self-interest in America’s poorest state, and then a general election test of partisan and racial polarization. But that’s all water over the Tallahatchie Bridge.
Don’t expect any replications of the Miracle of June 24 any time soon.