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Mississippi do-over means neither side’s going down without a fight

BY Domenico Montanaro, Terence Burlij, Rachel Wellford and Simone Pathe  June 5, 2014 at 9:16 AM EST
Miss. state Senator Chris McDaniel and U.S. Senator Thad Cochran are locked in a tight runoff.

Miss. state Senator Chris McDaniel and U.S. Senator Thad Cochran are locked in a tight runoff.

The Morning Line

Today in the Morning Line:

  • Heading for a runoff in Miss.
  • Millions more to be spent
  • Cochran backers try to change the narrative
  • Bergdahl debate continues to rage – all about closing Gitmo?

Cochran, McDaniel set for runoff: Sen. Thad Cochran and his allies are pushing back against the conventional wisdom that the veteran incumbent is at a significant disadvantage or worse in the June 24 runoff with tea party-backed state Sen. Chris McDaniel. After all absentee ballots were counted, the AP declared Wednesday the race would last another three weeks since neither candidate received more than 50 percent of the vote. With all precincts reporting, McDaniel led 49.5 percent to 49 percent — a margin of 1,386 votes. The race won’t officially be certified as a runoff, however, until at least Friday, June 13 at 5 p.m. CT. That’s the deadline for the state Republican Party to submit its certified results. The state doesn’t run this election, the state party does. There is also no recount law in Mississippi. And because of the state’s new voter ID law, people who did not bring a photo ID to the poll have five business days — until Wednesday, June 11 — to submit an affidavit, otherwise known as a provisional ballot in other states, to a clerk’s office. The state didn’t keep data on how many people were given affidavits, so there’s no real way of knowing how many are out there, according to a spokeswoman for the state board of elections.

The money — $5 to $7 million could be spent: Republican operatives project the rematch could cost an ADDITIONAL $5 to $7 million — on top of the $12 million already spent by the campaigns and outside groups. And that’s in a state that’s VERY inexpensive to advertise in. Both sides need to “arm up,” an operative said. And it appears that’s what they’re doing. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce said Wednesday it will “stand by” Cochran. So too will the Mississippi Conservatives PAC run by Henry Barbour, the nephew of former Gov. Haley Barbour. The Club for Growth, which spent about $2.5 million boosting McDaniel, said it would “vigorously pursue this race to its conclusion.” The Senate Conservatives Fund, which also backed McDaniel, is expected to continue its support as well. So why will it cost so much? In part, because Cochran allies believe the campaign’s ground game was severely lacking. The National Republican Senatorial Committee went into Mississippi just 10 days ago when it realized how poor the get-out-the-vote effort was. Because of that, they feel there’s an opportunity for Cochran to improve upon his showing Tuesday, and they are going to pour in activists and door-knockers to get the word — and the vote — out.

The message: Former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, a strong Cochran supporter, told the Morning Line that Cochran is a “very strong underdog,” and acknowledged problems with the turnout effort. He said he doesn’t “have any doubt” that McDaniel’s voters will show up again, so he stressed that Cochran needs to expand the field of voters he’s appealing to, like teachers “who may not typically vote in Republican primaries.” People around Cochran will do so by reminding voters that McDaniel said he would be against all federal funding for education — when much of Mississippi’s school funding comes from the federal government — and that McDaniel said it would have been a tough vote for him on Katrina recovery funding. Barbour called Cochran the “quiet giant” that secured that money for the state. He derided outside groups supporting McDaniel as just looking for a “scalp” for national fundraising since they have “struck out this year. This is their last chance.” He added that they “don’t care about Mississippi’s future; they care about a national agenda.” Whether these arguments win out, though, is a VERY open question. Given that McDaniel supporters can see the finish line and will likely show up again, it is going to be a very tough challenge for Team Cochran to thread a pro-government needle in a conservative state and in a national climate that is very anti-Washington.

How much does the outcome matter?: As we’ve noted in this space before, Washington Republicans worry if McDaniel emerges as the party’s nominee it could potentially cause headaches for other candidates running this cycle who might be pressed to answer for his past controversial statements. “I think spending money effectively in the next three weeks saves millions in the general,” Mississippi’s other Republican senator, Roger Wicker, told Politico Wednesday. But even if McDaniel wins, because of Mississippi’s demographics, as FiveThirtyEight’s Harry Enten notes, the race would likely be an uphill climb for Democrats, who nominated a serious contender in former Rep. Travis Childers. Mississippi is a more conservative state than Indiana, where Democrat Joe Donnelly defeated Richard Mourdock in 2012 after the Republican candidate said that pregnancies resulting from rape were “something that God intended to happen.”

Bergdahl back and forth continues: After a classified briefing Wednesday night on the prisoner exchange of Bowe Bergdahl, in which members were shown a video that the administration says prompted it to act because of Bergdahl’s health, senators on both sides remained unconvinced that trading five Guantanamo detainees was the right move. Questions continue to be raised about Bergdahl’s performance on the battlefield and whether he deserted. How much has this become a heated political issue? Because of threats, Bergdahl’s hometown canceled a welcome home celebration. The White House has clearly been surprised by the backlash, particularly the sharp and fierce thumbs-up, thumbs-down attitudes toward Bergdahl. There are legitimate questions here: Was this exchange the right move? Even former Obama Defense Secretary Leon Panetta questioned it; Did the administration do an end-around Congress or did it consult? Members of Congress aren’t convinced of that; How high a price should be paid to “leave no soldier behind”? But the other bigger question we have to ask ourselves is, even if Bergdahl deserted, does it mean his life was worth less than other Americans?

Obama’s ‘clean slate;’ Gitmo debate to take center stage: Bergdahl is at the center of what is going to become a much bigger debate about the closing of the American prison at Guantanamo Bay. President Obama campaigned on it, but was unable to get it done because of a lack of cooperation from members of Congress on where these prisoners should be housed. But Mr. Obama began a renewed push to prioritize the prison’s closing. Note that in his NPR interview last week, he said the following: “I’m going to keep on pushing because I want to make sure that when I turn the keys over to the next president, that they have the ability, that he or she has the capacity to — to make some decisions with a relatively clean slate. Closing Guantanamo is one.” “Clean slate.” That is a key phrase. End of the war in Afghanistan with zero troops by 2016, or the end of his presidency; beginning to move prisoners out of Guantanamo. It all adds up to leaving nothing undone that he intended to do as a candidate.

Daily Presidential Trivia: On this day in 1933, President Franklin Roosevelt signed the bill that took the U.S. off of the gold standard. What year did the federal government first circulate paper currency? Be the first to Tweet us the correct answer using #PoliticsTrivia, and you’ll get a Morning Line shout-out. No one guessed Wednesday’s trivia: Where was the assassination attempt made against President George H. W. Bush? The answer was: Kuwait.

LINE ITEMS

  • Democratic Iowa Senate nominee Bruce Braley is hitting Republican nominee Joni Ernst in his first TV ad of the general election. He sticks with the farm theme, highlighting Ernst’s castration/cut the pork ad, and uses a chick to say Ernst didn’t say a “peep” as a state senator to “cut pork.” Frankly, it’s an ad that many wondered why Republican Mark Jacobs never ran in the primary, but we digress…

  • Republican Senate candidate Monica Wehby spoke with Jeff Mapes of the Oregonian about published police reports detailing incidents involving the stalking of an ex-boyfriend and harassment of her former husband. Wehby said the reports were portrayed in an “inflammatory” manner and accused the Merkley campaign and its “band of bullies” of launching a “despicable attack.”

  • Speaker John Boehner sent a letter to President Obama calling on him to support legislation from House Republicans that would address major problems at Veterans Affairs medical centers.

  • At least six politicians, including Iowa’s Joni Ernst and Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran, have deleted Tweets in support of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, according to Mashable and the Sunlight Foundation’s Politwoops website.

  • South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham said Wednesday that he and other Republican lawmakers would call for the impeachment of President Obama if he releases additional Guantanamo detainees without congressional approval.

  • House Democrats are joining the fight against an effort by Kansas and Arizona to add a proof of citizenship requirement to their voter registration forms, saying it would limit voter rights.

  • With a possible return to the national political stage, Texas Gov. Rick Perry may see his legacy undone by right-wing conservatives after he leaves office in January.

  • Colorado GOP Rep. Cory Gardner is set to launch a $900,000 TV ad buy next week that will last through the month in his race against Democratic Sen. Mark Udall.

  • John Myers of PBS affiliate KQED lays out his five big takeaways from California’s primary elections.

  • From Wednesday through Friday, immigration reform advocates plan to hold protests at the district offices of 22 House Republicans. Five protesters in Nevada were cited for trespassing after protesting in the hallway of Rep. Joe Heck’s Las Vegas office.

  • The House and Senate are sending delegations to Normandy for the 70th anniversary of D-Day Friday.

  • The United States Supreme Court will not halt gay marriages in Oregon, after a request from the National Organization for Marriage to stay the May 19 ruling from the federal court.

  • The NRA continues to distance itself from an article on its website that criticized open-carry by gun rights protestors as “scary” and “weird.”

  • Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s administration is planning how to enroll another 400,000 Virginians in Medicaid and has researched whether McAuliffe has the power to expand the program by executive order in the face of stiff opposition from the House of Delegates.

  • With all precincts reporting Wednesday, two California counties rejected advisory ballot measures to secede, while voters in Tehama County approved their initiative by 56 percent.

  • While a majority of Americans are still in favor of the death penalty, a new Washington Post/ABC News poll shows that number has dropped significantly since the 1990s.

  • Gym-goers at a Marriott Hotel in Warsaw were allowed to capture Mr. Obama pumping iron next to them.

  • New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie accepted a national Father of the Year award from the Father’s Day/Mother’s Day Council.

  • 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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