Outside Groups To Spend Even More Ahead Of Miss. GOP Senate Runoff

Well-heeled outside groups easily outspent Sen. Thad Cochran and challenger Chris McDaniel before the GOP Senate primary in Mississippi. They're going all in on the runoff election later this month.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And I'm David Greene. Good morning. This midterm election year was set up as a battle between factions of the Republican Party, the establishment versus the Tea Party. We expected outside money to pour into congressional races, and here is one measure of that.

In a Republican primary Senate race in Mississippi, super PACs and other independent political groups have outspent the candidates. And those groups are far from done, as incumbent Thad Cochran and his tea party challenger Chris McDaniel head toward a runoff this month. Here is NPR's Peter Overby.

PETER OVERBY, BYLINE: Up through the primary this Tuesday, Cochran's campaign has had more money than McDaniel's, but Tea Party groups and their allies more than filled the gap, carrying McDaniel's message to voters. The nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks political spending, counts 19 groups active in the race - 13 of them backing the challenger. CRP says pro-McDaniel groups outspent those supporting Cochran about 5 to 3. So as McDaniel squeaked into the lead Tuesday night, Cochran advisor Stuart Stevens tried to make the best of a bad situation.

STUART STEVENS: Senator Cochran took a $5 million out-of-state punch, and - the best punch they had - and fought him to a draw.

OVERBY: FreedomWorks is part of that punch. It's based in Washington, D.C., and was instrumental in building the Tea Party movement. Its president, Matt Kibbe, says they're renewing their grassroots operation.

MATT KIBBE: We have a very sophisticated network of activists all across the state of Mississippi.

OVERBY: And also in the state, one of the national Tea Party groups. Kevin Broughton spokesman for the super PAC Tea Party Patriots Citizens Fund from Georgia. He says they're concentrating on turnout, too.

KEVIN BROUGHTON: The Cochran camp tried to, quote, "expand the base" very late in the game, and it was a pretty sure sign to everybody that Thad Cochran was in trouble.

OVERBY: Some of the biggest spenders didn't want to comment on what they'll be doing. Among them, the Club for Growth Super PAC, which has spent two and a half million dollars attacking Cochran, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which spent a half million dollars attacking McDaniel. But at the super PAC Mississippi Conservatives, chairman Henry Barbour has a lot to say.

HENRY BARBOUR: I will tell you, our group is going to spend a lot more time and effort focused on organization.

OVERBY: That is, convincing people to come out and vote. It comes on the heels of the super PAC's nearly $2 million in anti-McDaniel adds. Now the super pack plans to go after Democratic and African-American voters. The argument - that in Mississippi, the Republican primary often determines the ultimate winner.

BARBOUR: They have been a stake in this election. And if they want to have a say in the kind of United States senator that we're going to have represent us, they need to vote in this runoff.

OVERBY: Even though Mississippi Conservatives PAC has gotten some money from up in Washington, Barbour says it has Mississippi's interests at heart. He says McDaniel is beholden to outsiders.

BARBOUR: These D.C.-based political committees that have hijacked the Tea Party, they don't care anything about Mississippi. We see that as a fundamental contrast in this race.

OVERBY: David Bozell laughs at that. He is director of Virginia-based ForAmerica. It does online messaging promoting McDaniel.

DAVID BOZELL: There's a lot of money coming in on both sides of the runoff. So anyone complaining about outside money, you know, for Chris McDaniel has probably got to look in the mirror.

OVERBY: But right now, nobody is looking in any mirrors, not when the runoff election is less than three weeks away. Peter Overby, NPR News, Washington.

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