On Tuesday, black Democrats saved an elderly white Republican from political oblivion in the nation’s most racially polarized state. That’s not an exaggeration. On June 3, six-term Sen. Thad Cochran lost Mississippi’s Republican Senate primary to Chris McDaniel, a talk radio host and Tea Party–backed state senator with a long history of divisive and extreme rhetoric. But because of their vote totals—neither candidate broke 50 percent—the race went into a runoff. And the assumption from then until Tuesday was that Cochran would lose. After all, if there’s a rule in American elections, it’s that turnout goes down in a small, obscure contest like a Senate runoff. With his intense grass-roots support and wide backing from national Tea Party groups, McDaniel was the favorite.
Cochran had a choice: He could play the game the way its always been played and lose his seat, or he could bend the rules to his favor. He went with the latter. “His campaign,” wrote the New York Times last week, “is taking the unlikely step of trying to entice black voters to help decide the most high-profile Republican contest in the country.”
Some days – more days lately – I hate politics as much as the next American. But then stories like this appear, and I remember why I love politics so much. This is a genuinely fascinating tale, and I can’t help but wonder what’s next for Senator Thad Cochran. Will he make any changes to his policies or his priorities? What will other politicians learn from this? WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?!
“For blacks, it is imperative that we look at the process and try to maximize our efforts by utilizing our voting power as best we can,” he said.
As a practical matter, that could mean pushing Mississippi officials for expanded black voting rights or more access to affordable health care, black leaders here said. After all, in defending his outreach, Mr. Cochran himself said: “I think it’s important for everybody to participate. Voting rights has been an issue of great importance in Mississippi.”
Others said blacks would have new leverage with Mr. Cochran. “He owes them an ear,” Mr. Simmons said. “He owes them an opportunity to sit and engage with him just like any other group. Senator Cochran could have a very different opinion about some of these things and vote a different way after this experience.” [New York Times]