Sen. Cochran Beats Tea Party Challenger In Miss. Runoff

Republican Sen. Thad Cochran, 76, managed to hang on after a runoff that likely represented the Tea Party's best remaining chance to knock off a Senate incumbent.

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It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning I'm David Greene form member station WLRN in Miami.

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And I'm Renee Montagne. A longtime senator from Mississippi has beaten back a Tea Party challenger in a hard-fought and much watched Republican runoff. The race between the six-term incumbent, Thad Cochran and state Senator, Chris McDaniel was considered a test of Tea Party strength against the GOP establishment in a reliably conservative state. NPR national correspondent Debbie Elliott has been following the race and joins us now from Hattiesburg Mississippi. Good morning.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: Good morning Renee.

MONTAGNE: OK, so three weeks ago Senator Cochran came in second in the primary but came back yesterday to narrowly edge out Chris McDaniel in a runoff. Quite a turn around and he did it in what might be considered rather an unusual way.

ELLIOTT: Right. He really turned out to the electorate, he expanded the electorate, you know, 319,000 people voted in the primary and yesterday 360,000 people came to vote. And a lot of them came from territory that typically wouldn't be considered Republican strongholds, a lot of high turnout in African-American precincts for instance and the Cochran campaign really reached out to black voters. The message was that Senator Cochran had brought a lot of federal spending home. That benefits their communities, money that Chris McDaniel would have liked to seen cut off. He also had the Republican establishment in Mississippi solidly behind him and they really worked to turn out the vote. Last night at his victory party Senator Cochran after probably fight of his career. He really hasn't had any opposition since the 80s; he was thanking all of his supporters and spreading the credit.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SENATOR THAD COCHRAN: It's a group effort, it's not a solo and so we all have a right to be proud of our state tonight. Thank you very much.

ELLIOTT: So quite the turnaround for Senator Cochran.

MONTAGNE: And what was Chris McDaniel's reaction to this loss?

ELLIOTT: Well first of all, his speech last night was definitely not a concession. Here's what he had to say.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

STATE SENATOR CHRIS MCDANIEL: But we are not prone to surrender, we Mississippians. (Applause)

ELLIOTT: So no surrender, no confession. McDaniel talked about fighting for the conscience of the Republican Party and making sure that quote, "the security of the vote is upheld." He said we have to be certain the Republican primary was won by Republican voters. You know that is definitely a reference to the Cochran campaign courting black voters in this race. Now right now it's not clear if McDaniel plans to formally challenge the results and seek a recount. State law in Mississippi allows anyone, you know, to vote in the runoff as long as they did not cast a ballot in a Democratic primary three weeks ago, it's an open system. I asked McDaniel's spokesman last night, so what now? He simply said stay tuned, meanwhile McDaniel's supporters were chanting, write in Chris.

MONTAGNE: So we've been seeing this ongoing struggle between mainstream Republicans and the Tea Party play out in this Mississippi Senate race. Just briefly, what is the lesson?

ELLIOTT: You know, I think it's score one for the establishment. There couldn't have been a starker contrast here. You had the 76-year-old, six-term incumbent who went to Washington the same year his 41 -year-old opponent was born. Thad Cochran is known simply as, "gentleman Thad." Here he's known for his quiet clout, he's a powerful formal appropriations chair, known for bringing home the bacon in a state that is very dependent on federal spending. And then you had, you know, in McDaniel a fighter. Somebody who wanted to slash that federal spending and impose term limits on Congress. Doing away with you know Mississippi's long tradition of sending politicians to Washington for the long haul to build up the kind of seniority that Thad Cochran had. So I think right now the question is whether those two sides of the party can come together to take on the Democrat in the general election, who is Travis Childers, he's a former Congressman and a member of the Blue Dog Democratic Coalition.

MONTAGNE: All right NPR's Debbie Elliott speaking to us from Hattiesburg, Mississippi. Thanks very much.

ELLIOTT: Thank you.

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