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No clear primary winner leaves Republicans with Mississippi muddle

BY Domenico Montanaro, Terence Burlij and Rachel Wellford  June 4, 2014 at 9:12 AM EDT
Chris McDaniel, Republican candidate for Mississippi Senate, speaks with an employee of Truhitt Service Center in Union, Miss., May 29. Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call

Chris McDaniel, Republican candidate for Mississippi Senate, speaks with an employee of Truhitt Service Center in Union, Miss., May 29. Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call

The Morning Line

Today in the Morning Line:

  • No clear winner in Mississippi
  • Ernst crushes the field in Iowa
  • Coal war in key Kentucky Senate race
  • Obama meets with Ukrainian leader

Mississippi muddle: The Republican Senate primary in Mississippi, featuring a tea party insurgent against the second most senior Republican in the Senate, went down to the wire Tuesday night and lurched toward a June 24 runoff. With 99.5 percent of the vote in, state Sen. Chris McDaniel had a 49.6 percent to 48.9 percent lead over incumbent Sen. Thad Cochran, the 76-year-old lawmaker who has served in the Senate for 36 years. A candidate needed to surpass 50 percent to win the race outright. But a little-known third GOP candidate, Thomas Carey, pulled in almost 2 percent of the vote. The next steps in the race won’t be known until at least Thursday because of absentee, provisional and contested ballots. And every vote is going to be crucial in a race currently separated by just 2,100 votes out of about 300,000. Establishment Republicans are biting their nails over this one, because, as we’ve written in this space before, not only could a McDaniel win give Democratic ex-Rep. Travis Childers a chance, but they worry that McDaniel’s past will come back to haunt other GOP candidates. Remember, even Mitt Romney, the GOP presidential nominee, had to answer for Richard Mourdock, the conservative who knocked off longtime Sen. Richard Lugar in Indiana in 2012 after Mourdock said that pregnancies resulting from rape were “something that God intended to happen.” Mourdock wound up losing to current Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly in the general election.

Lugar sees ‘parallels’ to his race: Speaking of Lugar, the former senator told one of your Morning Line authors that he saw “many parallels” between his race two years ago and what’s happening to his friend Cochran. Lugar called “extreme” candidates “problematic” and said that debates in the Senate had almost become dumbed down and “mean-spirited” largely because of the new crop of conservatives, who took on senators like himself. While he understands the need to cater to the grassroots, he stressed that being a senator “requires a degree of scholarship and research and study that goes well beyond the needs of one’s own constituents.” He lamented that people with a “common sense” temperament like Cochran were becoming rarer in the Senate, and he was keeping his “fingers crossed” that he would ultimately win out.

Ernst wins big: The question ahead of the Senate Republican primary in Iowa was whether frontrunner Joni Ernst could clear 35 percent and avoid a state convention to decide the nomination. Ernst answered in convincing fashion Tuesday, winning a whopping 56 percent of the vote to defeat four competitors, including former Reliant Energy chief executive Mark Jacobs and talk radio host turned college professor Sam Clovis. Ernst, a state senator and military commander, will face off against Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley in November’s general election. She was able to gain traction in the GOP primary with catchy ads highlighting pig castration and firing handguns, but the challenge for Ernst going forward is likely to be attracting independents who might not be as receptive to her “mother, soldier, conservative” slogan. Close to 40 percent of Iowa voters are registered neither as Democrats nor as Republicans, which makes it difficult for any candidate to play solely to his or her base. President Barack Obama won the Hawkeye State twice, and for the moment it appears to still favor Braley. But Republicans believe Ernst could make the race competitive. If she were to win, Ernst would be the first woman from Iowa ever elected to Congress.

Coal war plays out in Kentucky: Kentucky Democratic Senate hopeful Alison Lundergan Grimes is trying hard to separate herself from President Obama and the administration’s new EPA rules. As part of a six-figure buy focused on coal, Grimes calls out Obama in a new radio ad: “Mr. President, Kentucky has lost one-third of our coal jobs in just the last three years. Now your EPA is targeting Kentucky coal with pie in the sky regulations that are impossible to achieve. It’s clear you have no idea how this affects Kentucky.” But Grimes is ALSO trying to tie incumbent Sen. Mitch McConnell to Obama in a bit of messaging jujitsu. “It’s bad enough we’ve lost 18,000 coal jobs since Mitch McConnell became senator. It’s even worse that Senator McConnell says it’s not his job to bring jobs to Kentucky. Now you give us this.” The 18,000 number precedes Obama, according to Grimes’ campaign, which they say makes “the point that McConnell has been ineffective far before the current president took office.” McConnell’s campaign calls Grimes’ effort “insulting and transparently political,” pointing out that she “lined up as a delegate behind Barack Obama after he announced he would wage a war on coal.”

Obama’s coal irony: McConnell introduced legislation Tuesday that would require the Labor secretary to certify that the regulations would not cost jobs. The Grimes campaign calls the legislation “inadequate.” “We see an opening to point out that both McConnell and Obama don’t get KY,” a spokesperson said. The greater irony in all this is that when President Obama was Illinois Sen. Obama, he and Jim Bunning of Kentucky were known as the “liquid coal” senators given how big coal is in downstate Illinois.

Obama meets with new Ukraine leader: President Obama on Wednesday met for the first time with Petro Poroshenko, Ukraine’s president-elect. “The United States is absolutely committed to standing behind the Ukrainian people, not just in the coming days and weeks but in the coming years,” Mr. Obama said in Warsaw, Poland. He announced an increase in non-lethal aid for Ukraine — though many more hawkish voices in the U.S. would like to see the U.S. help with weaponry. A new CNN/ORC poll finds the president’s approval rating holding steady at 43 percent. He gets just a 40 percent approval to 57 percent disapproval for his handling of foreign affairs, including a 38 percent to 53 percent rating of his handling of the situation in Ukraine. The president later heads to Brussels, where he will meet with Belgium’s king and prime minister at 1:20 p.m. ET, followed by European Union leaders at 2 p.m. ET and a G-7 working dinner at 2:20 p.m. ET. (It used to be the G-8 before Russia’s incursion in Ukraine.)

Daily Presidential Trivia: On this day in 1994, six men were sentenced to death for plotting to kill President George H. W. Bush. Where was the assassination attempt made?
Be the first to Tweet us the correct answer using #PoliticsTrivia, and you’ll get a Morning Line shout-out. Congratulations to Jennifer ‏(@Jennesber) for guessing Friday’s trivia: Where did John Adams first take up residence when he moved to DC? The answer was: He stayed at Tunnicliffe’s City Hotel near the Capitol building.

LINE ITEMS

  • In California, Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown came through with a commanding win Tuesday, and will now face former Assistant Secretary of the Treasury Neel Kashkari, a moderate Republican who served under George W. Bush and Obama, who held off a tea party opponent.

  • Democratic Rep. Mike Honda will face off against fellow Democrat Ro Khanna in the race for California’s 17th Congressional District. Honda took 49 percent of the vote in Tuesday’s primary, while Khanna placed second with 27 percent, ahead of a pair of Republican candidates.

  • The race for the Republican nomination in Iowa’s 3rd Congressional District will be decided by a convention of party delegates on June 21 after none of the six candidates cleared 35 percent on Tuesday. The eventual nominee will face former state Sen. Staci Appel, who ran unopposed in the Democratic primary.

  • Steve Lonegan, a conservative firebrand, mayor and perennial candidate, was defeated by millionaire Tom MacArthur after a very heated and expensive primary race. Previously, Lonegan, who was also a former state director for Americans for Prosperity, unsuccessfully ran for the late-Sen. Frank Lautenberg’s open Senate seat and for governor in 2005 and 2009.

  • Arkansas GOP Senate candidate Tom Cotton said Tuesday the president committed a “grevious error” by agreeing to exchange five detainees held at Guantanamo Bay for the release of U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl from Taliban custody.

  • Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he was told about the exchange of Taliban detainees for Bergdahl one day before he was released.

  • Following Bergdahl’s release, some are questioning whether the U.S. military’s policy of “no one left behind” is always appropriate.

  • Medicaid expansion is one thing even red-state Democrats are campaigning on.

  • Amendment votes could kill any chance of the Senate passing legislation to reform the Veterans Affairs Department. On Tuesday, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., joined by three Republican senators, introduced the Veterans Choice Act, which aims to allow veterans to seek health care outside the VA.

  • The Washington Post’s Juliet Eilperin reports that the White House is considering the CEO of the Cleveland Clinic to replace Eric Shinseki as VA Secretary.

  • The Senate Appropriations Committee will take up a measure Thursday that would restore cuts to rail and transit programs made by the House.

  • The partisan divide was on full display Tuesday, when Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., testified before a Senate committee on campaign finance rules. However, both senators did agree that efforts to amend the Constitution will most likely go nowhere.

  • In states like West Virginia and Kentucky, where nearly all of the electricity is generated by coal, Democrats were quick to denounce President Obama’s plan to cut carbon emissions. Susan Page of USA Today and Reid Wilson of The Washington Post spoke with Gwen Ifill Tuesday to examine the political fallout.

  • The former mayor of Charlotte, N.C., Patrick Cannon, pleaded guilty to accepting tens of thousands of dollars in bribes and other rewards Tuesday.

  • The Michigan Senate approved a measure pushed by Republican Gov. Rick Snyder that would use state funds to save the pensions of Detroit retirees.

  • Keep an eye on the Rundown blog for breaking news throughout the day, our home page for show segments, and follow @NewsHour for the latest.

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Questions or comments? Email Domenico Montanaro at dmontanaro-at-newshour-dot-org or Terence Burlij at tburlij-at-newshour-dot-org.

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