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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

The Big Takeaway from Cochran’s Upset

Yes, another Republican upset, only this time the tea party lost (though not by much). Republican incumbent Thad Cochran was likely to lose to challenger Chris McDaniel in the GOP primary, according to some astute political commentators.
As R. L. Nave wrote in his article “McDaniel Polling Ahead, Black Voters Still a Big Unknown” the Jackson Free press on Monday,

By most accounts, going into tomorrow’s Republican primary for U.S. Senate, state Sen. Chris McDaniel of Laurel has a commanding advantage over the incumbent, U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran…That is, among likely GOP voters…Over the weekend, Chism Strategies–a Democratic firm that has commissioned several polls since the June 3 primary election that resulted in a runoff–unveiled its latest survey of Republicans that shows McDaniel leading Cochran by eight points. For the first time since Chism began polling, the lead is well outside the 4 percent margin of error.

Instead Cochran eked out a victory 50.8 to 49.2, with 99 percent of the votes counted. At the upshot, Nate Cohn explained it this way:

Overall turnout has surpassed that from the initial primary by 14 percent, or 45,465 votes, so far…The increase in turnout was generally to the benefit of Mr. Cochran. Turnout increased by 34 percent in the counties where Mr. Cochran was strongest and won at least 62 percent of the vote. But turnout also increased by 18 percent in counties where Mr. McDaniel was strong…The increase in the number of voters upset the conventional wisdom that turnout plummets in a runoff election.
…Mr. Cochran ran extraordinarily well in the traditionally establishment-friendly and heavily black Mississippi Delta, as well as around Jackson…The Cochran campaign’s efforts to appeal to Democratic-leaning black voters appeared to succeed. The increase in turnout was largest in heavily black counties, particularly in the Mississippi Delta. Over all, turnout rose by 43 percent in the counties where black voters make up more than 65 percent of eligible voters. Turnout increased by 92 percent in Jefferson County, where African-Americans represent 85 percent of the population, the largest share of any county in the country…

Cochran beat McDaniel by a little more than 6,000 votes. Cohn reports that “Turnout increased by 4,156 votes in the handful of counties where black voters represent more than 65 percent of eligible voters.” It seems reasonable that he could have picked up another 2-3 thousand African American votes in all of the other counties.
Cochran will no doubt crow all the way to November about how Black voters appreciate his constituent service and reasonable policies. But clearly, many African American voters who cast ballots for Sen. Cochran felt strongly that McDaniel would be an even more reactionary opponent of their voting rights and reforms that produce jobs and educational opportunity.
It’s an ambivalent outcome for Democrats. On the one hand, as Cohn notes, “Mr. Cochran’s victory eliminates whatever slight chance Democrats would have had if Mr. McDaniel had been the Republican nominee. Mr. Cochran is all but assured of winning re-election in Mississippi, one of the most Republican states in the country.”
On the other hand, a show of political strength by African American voters as a pivotal force in Mississippi is good news. It might embolden a stronger Black turnout in the future, if not in 2014. If it signals a new era of African American political upsurge in the south, it could set the stage for a blue wave in 2016.

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