The Tea Party was on the verge of claiming its first incumbent scalp of the 2014 election cycle as insurgent Republican Chris McDaniel appeared to force Sen. Thad Cochran into a GOP primary runoff in Mississippi.
McDaniel, a state senator, led Cochran by just over one thousand votes Tuesday evening with about 95 percent of precincts reporting. That lead put McDaniel at 49.5 percent of the vote, to Cochran’s 49 percent, just shy of the 50 percent, plus one, the winner needed to avoid a June 24 runoff.
Cochran, who has served in Congress since 1973 and is seeking his seventh Senate term, presented the Tea Party with perhaps its best opportunity of the election cycle to oust an incumbent GOP senator. And, McDaniel, thanks to a better than expected showing in Jones County, his home turf, might have delivered. Bellwether DeSoto County, a Memphis suburb in the northwest corner of Mississippi, also went strongly for McDaniel.
For McDaniel, it was somewhat of a comeback in the closing weeks of the campaign. On May 17, news broke that a supporter of his was arrested for allegedly slipping into the nursing home where Cochran’s wife, Rose, who suffers from dementia, has resided for the past 14 years, and took pictures of her that were subsequently used in an online hit attack video.
The incident, which resulted in the arrest of two other Mississippi Tea Party activists, appeared to stall McDaniel’s momentum, buoying Cochran’s supporters. But McDaniel appeared to recover in the campaign’s final weekend, and it showed in the results Tuesday night.
Runoffs are notoriously low turnout affairs that favor the surging candidate. That could spell doom for Cochran, although the unpredictable nature of this contest could offer yet more surprises before it’s all over.
This story was first published at 11:54 p.m. on June 3.