Longtime Sen. Cochran Ekes Out A Win Against Tea Party Challenger

In a result that came as a surprise to some observers, incumbent Sen. Thad Cochran won the GOP nomination in Mississippi's Senate primary. The tight election, which also featured Tea Party-backed challenger Chris McDaniel, came down to a runoff decided late Tuesday night.

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It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Audie Cornish.


And I'm Melissa Block. Tea Party candidates were rebuffed in primaries across the country yesterday. Just ahead, we'll get some analysis of what that may mean. To begin we're going to hear about it particularly stinging defeat in Mississippi. That's where longtime Republican U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran won a hard-fought runoff with State Sen. Chris McDaniel. The race was considered a key test of Tea Party strength in the conservative Deep South. NPR's Debbie Elliot reports.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: News that Thad Cochran eked out a victory, after a bruising three-week runoff, brought jubilation at his victory party in Jackson.


CHORUS: Thad, Thad, Thad, Thad...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: One more time.

CHORUS: Thad, Thad, Thad...

ELLIOTT: The 76-year-old incumbent took the stage. Flanked by some of the prominent Mississippi Republicans who had been working hard to nominate for a seventh term.


SENATOR THAD COCHRAN: Thank you all for being here to help celebrate our great victory.


COCHRAN: This is your victory.

ELLIOTT: He'll now face Democrat Travis Childers, a former congressman, in the fall. Cochran considers yesterday's vote a consensus on what his continued clout means for Mississippi. Cochran finished second in the primary three weeks ago, but fought back with a strategy to both energize his base and appeal to other voters - in particular, black Democrats. Mississippi election rules allow anyone to vote in the Republican runoff, as long as they didn't cast ballot in the Democratic primary. The message was that Sen. Cochran brings home federal dollars that benefit their communities. Money that Chris McDaniel would like to see cut off. Mississippi Con. Gregg Harper says it turned out the vote.

REPRESENTATIVE GREGG HARPER: People saw the reasons why they should vote for Thad.

ELLIOTT: Forty-thousand more people participated in the runoff than in the primary. And some of the biggest jumps in new voters came from heavily African American precincts.

COLUMESIA GRAHAM: My name is Columesia Graham. I voted for Thad Cochran. I think that he is more in touch with the needs of Mississippi.

ELLIOTT: Graham, a Hattiesburg voter, is new to Republican politics.

GRAHAM: I vote Democrat 100 percent - all the time.

ELLIOTT: But this time, she was worried Chris McDaniel would cut education funding. So she voted in the GOP runoff.


CHRIS MCDANIEL: Today, the conservative movement took a backseat to liberal Democrats in the state of Mississippi.


ELLIOTT: A defiant Chris McDaniel told supporters in Hattiesburg, last night, that the fight isn't over yet. We are not prone to surrender it, we Mississippians, he said.


MCDANIEL: Now it's our job to make sure that the sanctity of the vote is upheld. Before this race ends, we have to be absolutely certain that the Republican primary was won by Republican voters.

ELLIOTT: There's no word today, whether McDaniel plans to formally challenge the results. For his supporters, like Catherine "Cat" Tucker of Hillsdale, Mississippi, the defeat is a major blow.

CATHERINE TUCKER: In my mind, it was a last effort for us to try to save this country. I'm that passionate about it. If Mississippi can't elect a conservative, constitutional, God-fearing man to our Senate - if we can't do that, my question then is can it be done?

ELLIOTT: A question Tea Party leaders across the country are asking today. Debbie Elliott, NPR News, Hattiesburg, Mississippi.

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