Editor’s note: The most closely watched primary Tuesday night was Mississippi’s Republican race for the U.S. Senate seat where incumbent Thad Cochran remains in a tough fight against tea party candidate Chris McDaniel. With results too close to call, that election holds the last best hope for the tea party to win a race on the national stage.
With a lead of just a couple thousand votes, State Senator Chris McDaniel leads long-time U.S. Senator Thad Cochran 49 to 48 percent. However, with the race too close to call, both camps are gearing up for a runoff election on June 24th.
At an election party in Hattiesburg, Mississippi last night, supporters of State Senator Chris McDaniel were feeling upbeat and optimistic.
Cheers of “Win Chris, Win! Win Chris, Win! Win Chris, Win!” erupted from the crowd.
As results poured in, groups huddled around TVs waiting for the latest information, and when it became clear no winner would be announced, McDaniel took to the stage to let them know that their fight to change things in Washington was just beginning.
“We sit here tonight leading a 42-year-incumbent, but our fight is not over,” said McDaniel. “We’ll probably know tomorrow, but one way or another I promise you this: whether it’s tomorrow or whether it’s three weeks from tonight, we will stand victorious in this race.”
Despite the news of a possible runoff election between McDaniel and incumbent Thad Cochran, supporters remained hopeful. Jones County native Michael Speed was among the first in line to sign-up and volunteer for the runoff.
“Oh, it’s going to be a lot different,” Speed said. “We’re going to get a lot more people out. We’re going to work a lot harder. We’re going to get our people out, and win the race for Chris. “We’re going to shock the world.”
Tea party leaders also see the runoff as a victory. Jenny Beth Martin is one of the co-founders of the Tea Party Patriots – a national conservative Super PAC. She says this proves Mississippians are tired of the way things are going in Washington.
“We’ve got candidates who want us to have a debt-free future,” said Martin. “They stand for personal freedom and economic freedom, and the voters understand that and they’ve spoken. The fact that it looks like we’re heading to a runoff against a man who has been in office for four decades is monumental. I think if it were going to work out in Cochran’s favor that would have already happened tonight.”
At the Cochran Campaign in Jackson, dozens of supporters crowded into a hotel ballroom only to walk out hours later, disappointed by the lack of an outcome. Hoping to uplift the crowd, Mississippi’s Third District Congressman Gregg Harper spoke to when Senator Thad Cochran failed to make an appearance.
“I can tell you this, when it comes to the future of our state, Thad Cochran is the future of our state,” Harper said.
The lack of a win for was frustrating for Cochran supporter Che Weiner.
“His incumbency is far better for Mississippi then having an ideologue who is not interested in building bridges and working with people, but to pursue a political ideology,” said Weiner.
Campaign spokesman Austin Barbour says they welcome a runoff even if it means several more weeks of campaigning.
“We’re excited about it,” said Barbour. “We’re glad that the voters of Mississippi have three more weeks to take a look at each of the candidates. Take a look at who is supporting each of the candidates. When you look at Senator Cochran you have the Governor, the Lieutenant Governor, all conservative leaders, Gregg Harper, others, local officials. I think there were 50-something local officials in Rankin County. So voters get an opportunity to see what decision they want to make.”
The race between Cochran and McDaniel has been called one of the nastiest in the country, and with the possibility of a runoff just a few weeks away the mudslinging and fighting may not be over yet.
Jeffery Hess of MPB News contributed to this report. This story was first published on MPB’s website on June 4.