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Thad Cochran’s Democratic Campaign

Memo Pad Politics

Thad Cochran’s Democratic Campaign


WASHINGTON — “There is something a bit strange, there is something a bit unusual about a Republican primary that’s decided by liberal Democrats.”

The words of Chris McDaniel, the Tea Party candidate vanquished in Mississippi’s runoff on Tuesday by Sen. Thad Cochran and the state’s GOP establishment, were not the most gracious. But they contained an important truth about why Cochran prevailed after finishing second in the first round of voting on June 3.

In winning, Cochran overturned many of the cliches of political analysis: that runoffs draw lower turnouts than the main event; that incumbents who run behind the first time around typically lose second rounds; and that politics today is all about “turning out the base.”

Actually, Cochran did “turn out the base,” or at least part of it, but it was the Democratic base. Mississippi’s African-American voters crossing into the Republican primary almost certainly provided the political veteran with his margin of victory. They did this because McDaniel’s neo-Confederate views scared them and because they agreed with Cochran that money from Washington matters to their state’s well-being.

Oddly, Cochran’s triumph was a vote for core Democratic principles. Realizing that there were not enough votes in the normal Republican primary electorate to sustain the incumbent, Cochran’s top lieutenants — led by former Gov. Haley Barbour and Stuart Stevens, Mitt Romney’s chief strategist — reached far outside its boundaries by doing something Republicans rarely do, especially in Mississippi: They defended the federal government and mocked McDaniel’s implied claims that the state could do just fine without its help.

As my Washington Post colleague Dan Balz reported, Barbour was unabashed in pointing out that “more than 15 percent of Mississippi’s state education budget comes from the federal government, including virtually every penny we spend on special education.” Who imagined a Republican would win a primary running on special ed? Voters heard about the magnitude of defense spending in the state’s economy, and former NFL quarterback Brett Favre made an ad that spoke of Cochran’s work in bringing vital relief after Hurricane Katrina.

Cochran’s campaign was thus a model not for other Republican candidates but for Democrats who are too wary of saying outright that government does a lot of good. This pro-government message drew African-Americans but also various establishment figures in the state well aware of the benefits of Washington’s largesse. Burns Strider, a Democratic strategist with deep roots in Mississippi, was impressed by Cochran’s mobilization of these leaders, notably friends of the state’s institutions of higher education.

Yet in the racially polarized world of Mississippi politics, it was Cochran’s success with African-Americans that was most striking. And there is no doubt about the difference they made. “If you work your way down through the Delta counties and look at the size of the turnout increase, that was the result of Senator Cochran’s black turnout program,” Strider said.

Sam Hall of The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson noted that in the Delta area, Cochran increased his advantage over his runoff tally by more than 4,000 votes. In Hinds County that includes Jackson, “several large black precincts saw big increases.”

African-Americans responded not only to positive appeals from Cochran but also to McDaniel’s past as a talk show host and blogger who skirted if not crossed the line of racism. Last summer, McDaniel delivered the keynote address at a chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

On the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer, the drive to secure black voting rights that was met by violence and even murder, Cochran found himself under sharp attack from the right for relying on black voters and for “playing the race card,” a charge conservatives normally reserve for Democrats.

On the Breitbart website, Joel Pollak wrote: “Cochran played the race card,  dividing the electorate for the sake of his own decrepit incumbency.” Another Breitbart post read: “The fact that they played the race card and ran mailers and robo calls in African-American areas accusing their own party of being racist is downright despicable.” Twitter lit up with similar comments Tuesday night after Cochran was declared the victor.

This rancor could usefully challenge Republican leaders to grapple openly with the role of race within their coalition. And that a long-serving, quite conservative Republican senator could survive only by expanding the GOP electorate beyond the faithful is a reminder of just how conservative the party’s primary electorate has become. Broadening the party by admitting the inadequacy of anti-government shibboleths cannot be a one-state, one-time, one-incumbent proposition.

E.J. Dionne’s email address is ejdionne@washpost.com. Twitter: @EJDionne.

AFP Photo/Justin Sullivan

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E. J. Dionne

Besides contributing to The National Memo, E.J. Dionne, Jr. is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, a syndicated columnist for the Washington Post, and a university professor in the Foundations of Democracy and Culture at Georgetown University.

His most recent book is Our Divided Political Heart: The Battle for the American Idea in an Age of Discontent (2013).

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  1. Daniel Jones June 26, 2014

    There’s only one reason McDaniels’ camp was accused of being racist so successfully that blacks were repulsed and dutifully ensured Cochran’s victory.
    Brace yourself: They are racist racists. The mere fact that they are snarling more over the fact that blacks are black than that democrats took part in the primary says it all, really.

  2. Kansan June 26, 2014

    They voted for the best of a bad lot.

    1. Dominick Vila June 26, 2014

      You are right. They voted for the lesser of two evils, although by Tea Party logic, Cochran’s pragmatism and record is clear evidence that he is a RINO.
      The most disconcerting part for me, when we devote so much time to discussing which Republican is best suited to go to Washington, is that our emphasis is evidence of defeat. Why aren’t we talking about the gains made by Democrats, both in foreign and domestic policies, the way we managed to prevent the collapse of the U.S. economy, bring justice to the victims of 9/11, our successes on social matters, and other such issues? Why do we keep talking about which Republican should lead the anti-Obama agenda in Washington?

      1. mike June 26, 2014

        Dom, the American people sure don’t see any foreign or domestic gains and all the polls are in agreement. On Obama’s foreign Policy only 37% think he is doing a good job and those numbers don’t include the mess in Iraq today. I am sure you can name some foreign policies gains, or even better, name one country that relationships with this country have improved under Obama. On domestic issues 54% of Americans people feel he is not able to lead the country and get the job done.
        Yes on social issues he has made some headway but does it put food on the table or people getting hired? This is his economy and after this weeks numbers GDP -3%, 300k new unemployed Americans, it sure looks a lot worse going forward.

        As dailykos says Cochran will continue to whittle down the Govt but at a slower rate than McDaniels would want. And Cochran will still win in the November.

        Obama the “Empty Suit”.

  3. Dominick Vila June 26, 2014

    The fact that white supremacists believe African-Americans should not have the right to vote and influence the outcome of elections in the USA is not new. African-Americans did not vote for Cochran because they like him, they did it because of the statements made by McDaniel, which left very little doubt about his contempt or overt hatred of ethnic minorities. Why should people who are being insulted, threatened, and likely to be marginalized by a racist sit idly and allow their nemesis to succeed? The GOP outrage is consistent with the hatred they demonstrate, time and again, whenever President Obama says or does anything.

    1. FT66 June 26, 2014

      Not only that. African-Americans in MS know Cochran for quite some time since he became Senator for all these years. They understand what good things he did for them. They understand if Cochran brings bacon home he doesn’t exclude anyone whether one is republican or not. All benefited. Why should they rush to vote for another person they do not know and who carries the banner of hatred. The evidence of this is, they saw those who came to campaign for McDaniels every now and then are against them.

  4. sigrid28 June 26, 2014

    Yet more proof of the old adage, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

    Gene Robinson said it best last night on MSNBC. He called the role of black voters in Cochran’s victory “delicious.”

    This should give Democrats a great psychological boost in their effort to register voters nationwide and get their voters to the polls–and not just for general elections.

    1. stcroixcarp June 26, 2014

      If Cochran wins the general election, I hope he remembers who put him there. The Republican party needs to do a Stalinist style purge and force the Tea Party to become a third party.

  5. jointerjohn June 26, 2014

    I hope this will help convince the clear and overwhelming number of eligible voters out there who share the democrat parties views, yet are lousy at showing up to vote, that they can do anything they want by simply voting. If this country could have a midterm with 80% of eligible voters participating there wouldn’t be a single republican left in the federal government outside the Supreme Court. It’s just that simple.

  6. howa4x June 26, 2014

    I think afro Americans made a mistake in helping to elect Cochran. The only thing they voted for was the status quo and no republican will do anything to change that. At least McDaniel would have been a lightning rod to get people off their collective asses and vote for a democratic candidate. There are thousands of unregistered afro American voters in the south and by having a truly scary candidate to run against would have helped in a voter registration drive. Now there is complacency again and no need to change the dynamic. The republican party will rule the south until people realize they have voter power to change the political landscape. All this taught republicans is that they don’t have to change just put up a scarier candidate then than the already conservative one they have.

  7. bikejedi June 26, 2014

    Just wondering what the Liberals think about Lois Lerner and 6 other key people in the IRS scandal all losing two years of their emails having their hard drives destroyed and the Dog ate all 7 of their hard copies required by law . So why hasn’t Holder investigated this ? Why aren’t they all being arrested for destroying evidence …Are any of you still agreeing with Obama that there isn’t a smidgen of a scandal …Hahahahahah…. Remember Obama LIES to you people non stop … So what do you think ?

    1. johninPCFL June 26, 2014

      67000 emails have been supplied to Congress (from Lerner alone) and they include ALL of the emails from the months before and during the period when the GOP-appointed IRS official began enforcing the law as written. BTW, the law says that a 501C4 group must be ENTIRELY about social welfare, and have NO POLITICAL INTENT. A 1959 ‘clarification rule’ internal to the IRS changed ‘entirely’ to ‘mostly’. Also, there were NO teabagger groups denied C4 registration, unlike liberal groups who were denied registration.

      1. bikejedi June 26, 2014

        Thanks for at least responding . I have a few questions because maybe you haven’t seen the news lately . You are aware that the IRS lost 2 years of emails that are in question and that they wanted to see right ? So NO they dont have all the emails they want to see . You are aware that not only Lerner’s emails but 6 of the other people who are being investigated ( questioned ) have also lost two years of emails and had their hard drives destroyed … These seem to be the ONLY people in the IRS who this happened too . You are aware I hope that the new director of the IRS ( a Dem donor ) hid the fact and didnt even tell the investigators that this had all happened which would imply to any logical person that he was trying to hide that fact of the lost emails . They dont seem to have the hard copies which are required by law either so the Dog ate their homework for 2 years in 7 different houses right ??? You do understand that this is as believable as Big Foot riding the Loch Ness Monster and that a poll that came out yesterday shows that almost 80% of Americans of ALL stripes dont believe a word Obama or Lerner say about this whole mess and why should they ??.. As for your assertion that Conservative groups were not targeted that is poppycock and a Liberal talking point . Use common sense we wouldnt be having lost emails if no crime had been committed or do you really believe that only 7 people lost 2 years of emails and had their hard drives destroyed and the only 7 happen to be the ones being investigated . Look even if you are a liberal you should realize how dangerous and unlawful it is to use the IRS as a weapon to punish your political opponents . Nixon resigned over something similar but a whole lot less severe . Of course we cant expect the arrogant narcissist to do the same even though at this point it is the right thing to do . I have to ask if you have been following this scandal and if you have are you in total denial or are you going to just defend this to the last breath ???? I ask because about 80% of Americans of all stripes dont believe a ” SMIDGEN ” of what Barack is cooking .

        1. johninPCFL June 28, 2014

          Sorry, any group with anything political in their name was ‘targeted’, and rightly so. The law’s wording is very simple: The group’s activities must be ENTIRELY devoted to public welfare.
          The IRS internal guidelines are that they must maintain 6 months of emails. Over 1400 computers were decommissioned/destroyed in the last year alone, and the emails, etc. on those computers that were lost are unknown. They’re not being asked for, so they weren’t cataloged.

          1. bikejedi June 28, 2014

            John … I think you may only be getting one side of the story . Yes groups on both sides were looked at and the Liberal orgs were generally approved I 2 weeks while the Conservative orgs were either denied for no good reason or are STILL awaiting approval . If there was no problem or targeting of these groups they wouldn’t be suing the Govt . It derailed what they wanted to do and accomplish and it may have even effected the election . Nixon resigned for far less then this . The other thing about the emails is that you would have to believe in Bigfoot to buy any of their story . Any reasonable person would call Bullshit on Lerner and the IRS and that was backed up by the recent poll that shows approx. 80% of American aren’t buying what Obama nor Lerner are selling … This one is more of a whopper then You Tube being the cause of Benghazi but I don’t want to get side tracked … Just trying to show that this admin has a history for whoppers … Maybe they should just call the Whitehouse Burger King and put a drive thru in there … Home of the Whopper … Have a great weekend

  8. adp3d June 26, 2014

    Cochran now needs to switch to the Democrat party, giving Mississippi a blueish tint…


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