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After Cantor’s upset, incumbents hold their ground in close primary races

June 25, 2014 at 6:15 PM EST
From Mississippi to New York to Colorado, incumbents survived a series of close races in Tuesday night’s primaries. Judy Woodruff talks to political editor Domenico Montanaro about how Sen. Thad Cochran pulled ahead of his tea party challenger in Mississippi, plus Rep. Charlie Rangel’s victory in New York.
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TRANSCRIPT

JUDY WOODRUFF: Two weeks after the House majority leader, Eric Cantor, Republican in Virginia, went down to a stunning primary defeat, the establishment struck back Tuesday night.

From Mississippi to New York to Colorado, there were plenty of close races for incumbents, but they all survived.

The NewsHour’s political editor, Domenico Montanaro, is back with us to decipher what happened.

So, Domenico, what did happen? This was supposed to be comeback night for the Tea Party, Mississippi.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, Political Editor: Maybe, right?

I mean, we were wondering whether or not the Eric Cantor race would be an aberration or whether or not it would be the start of some kind of anti-incumbent trend. And what it certainly looked like last night is that it really was just an aberration for Cantor, because there were some other issues at play where he ignored his district.

There were plenty, like we said in the intro, of very close races, Mississippi being one of them, but Thad Cochran, the incumbent senator there, longtime senator, eked out a win by just less than 2 percentage points over his Tea Party opponent. And he did it in a very unique way.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, talk about that, because there’s a lot of discussion — and you have been looking into this today — about what happened in some of these heavily Democratic parts of the state.

DOMENICO MONTANARO: Well, if you told me three weeks ago that a Republican would wind up winning a Republican primary by appealing to Democrats and black voters, I would have said he’s done.

And I think that’s why a lot of the political community was fairly skeptical that Thad Cochran and his team, with the Haley Barbour machine really in Mississippi, being able to pull that off. And that’s exactly what they wound up doing.

We saw that if you look at the 24 majority African-American districts in the state, Cochran wound up gaining 10,000 votes out of that. His margin of victory was only 6,700 votes. So, right there, you can see where he made up that margin.

And in one county, Hinds County, where Jackson is, which is 70 percent African-American, he wound up getting 5,700 votes he netted out of there, so that’s 85 percent of the margin that he wound up winning, so a really interesting effort by their campaign, one that really I don’t think’s been seen before.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And McDaniel picked up turnout as well, picked up his vote count as well, but as you were saying, for Cochran, it was much more.

And McDaniel can’t challenge this, right? I mean, there’s no way he can run as an — I mean, as an independent.

DOMENICO MONTANARO: Independent. No, he can’t, because he missed the March 1 deadline, so he can’t run as an independent. And I don’t think it would help him anyway.

He ran as an independent. His appeal is not with independents and Democrats, who would be able to then vote in the general election. This was an open primary, which is why Democrats and independents were able to vote. But if McDaniel ran in that climate, it would be much, much more difficult for him.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And you were saying incumbents did well elsewhere. Oklahoma is one place, and there were other states too.

DOMENICO MONTANARO: Absolutely.

 

Well, we see in Oklahoma James Lankford, the incumbent there, who was running for the open Senate seat, he’s an incumbent congressman, wound up, surprisingly, blowing away the field here, with T.W. Shannon, who is the former statehouse speaker.

And he had a lot of Tea Party support. And it really was a bad night for establishment Tea Party folks. The irony here is that Dave Brat, who wound up beating Eric Cantor, had almost no D.C. establishment, Tea Party support. That was pure grassroots. And it’s the only real win that they have had.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And you mentioned Colorado and some other states.

DOMENICO MONTANARO: Yes, in Colorado, Upstate New York, you had other incumbents who had a bit of a scare, but wound up winning their races anyhow.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, finally, the one Democratic incumbent we want to talk about, and that’s Charlie Rangel, New York City, long time, one of the longest-serving members of the House, eked out a win.

DOMENICO MONTANARO: Well, and a lot of us were wondering. Here is another 40-year member of the — of Congress, and would he be able to survive this time around in a district that has gotten much more heavily Latino?

He wound up winning. Late this afternoon, they finally called it 47-44 over state Senator Adriano Espaillat. So, Rangel, though, says that this will be his last term. We will see what winds up happening in the next — in the next one, if maybe Espaillat comes back.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Primary season marches on.

Domenico Montanaro, thank you.

DOMENICO MONTANARO: Thank you.