Cochran and McDaniel headed for a runoff in Mississippi

There are still some votes to be counted in Mississippi at the time of this writing, and Chris McDaniel’s vote total is achingly close to the 50 percent he needs to avoid a runoff to settle the Republican Senate primary, but it seems highly likely that voters will have one more chance to choose between the two candidates in three weeks.  Daybreak on Wednesday found 99 percent of precincts counted, putting McDaniel at 49.6 percent, incumbent Senator Thad Cochran 48.9 percent.  A third candidate, Thomas Carey, pulled a little under 2 percent.

That means McDaniel only needs to pick up about 1,200 votes to avoid the runoff.  It doesn’t look like it’s going to happen, but man, a race doesn’t get much closer than that.

Most observers expect McDaniel to prevail in the runoff election.  For one thing, he’s got the edge in energy, both personally and among supporters.  As every media analyst points out, he represents the Tea Party’s “last, best chance to take down an incumbent this year,” as NPR put it.  The traditional Establishment edge in financial support could count for less than the enthusiasm of McDaniel’s backers, including Sarah Palin and Rick Santorum, in this final round of voting.  The plucky underdog who came within half a percent of knocking off a four-decade incumbent has a more exciting campaign narrative, and excitement is priceless in these runoff votes.  The major reason the race was so competitive, the weird story about a blogger despicably invading a nursing home to take photos of Cochran’s ailing wife, has faded into background noise, with no direct connection to McDaniel’s campaign.

“I think a run-off probably plays to McDaniel’s advantage, probably just because of the low turnout,” ventured Haley Barbour, head of a political action committee that supported Cochran.  Translation: he doesn’t think his guy’s voters are as likely to show up for the final vote as the fired-up Tea Party crowd looking for a historic upset victory.

Also, Senator Cochran had a rough couple of days at the end of the primary, as chronicled by Matt Boyle at Breitbart News:

In the closing days of the campaign, the arrest of a blogger who entered Cochran’s wife’s residence to photograph her had begun to fade and Cochran was facing new questions about his age and mental acuity after a series of blunders on the campaign trail.

Earlier Wednesday, The Atlantic???s Molly Ball wrote Cochran had forgotten who she was less than thirty minutes after she had interviewed him. The six-term incumbent also accidentally told veteran Washington Post reporter Dan Balz that Obamacare is ???an important effort by the federal government??? and was confused by a third question about television ads his campaign is running.

The three-week extension after a brutal, months-long slugfest may give McDaniel, 42, an edge in stamina, although the deep pockets of the GOP Establishment could help push Cochran over the finish line.

Tellingly, Cochran did not address supporters at the end of Tuesday night, while McDaniel gave his a rousing speech to his.  “One way or the other, I promise you this: whether it’s tomorrow, or whether it’s three weeks from tonight, we will stand victorious in this race,” McDaniel proclaimed from the stage.

NPR sums up the argument Camp Cochran will likely make to Mississippi voters in the home stretch:

For the GOP, the stakes in a prospective June 24 runoff are high: Even in a conservative state like Mississippi, there are fears among Republicans that the defeat of the popular Cochran could create an opening for the Democratic nominee, former Congressman Travis Childers, to be competitive this fall.

With Cochran as the nominee, the thinking goes, Democrats have little hope of picking up the seat. Since first winning the Senate seat in 1978, the longtime senator has never won re-election with less than 61 percent of the vote.

That argument will be easier to sell if Mississippi Republicans seriously think the Senate seat is in danger of falling into Democrat hands, which doesn’t seem to be the case.  The Washington Times quotes a Cochran precinct worker who remained staunch in his support for the incumbent Senator, but flatly stated he doesn’t expect McDaniel to lose the general election if he secures the GOP nomination: “If Chris McDaniel beats a six-term incumbent, he is absolutely going to Travis Childers,” he said, referring to the Democrat nominee selected on Tuesday night.

NPR tactfully avoids mentioning the concrete pork-encrusted advantages of re-electing a veteran Senator who’s been parked in Washington longer than many of McDaniel’s voters have been alive, but that’s going to be the final selling point for Cochran’s re-election.  (And it is indeed a powerful selling point for the voters of any state, which is one reason term limits for Congress should have been passed decades ago.  How’s that 90 percent incumbent re-election rate working out for you, America?)  In the last days of the campaign, Cochran actually made a comment to the effect that it was nice to be back in lovely Mississippi after spending so much time in Washington, which probably did not rest easy in the ears of McDaniel’s revolutionary supporters.

Fox News has the other Tuesday night primary results, including a victory for the Iowa candidate who not only wants to bring imperial Washington to heel, but castrate it:

In Iowa, Ernst won the GOP primary. The 43-year-old Ernst won the nomination over five candidates including challenger Mark Jacobs, who led the race early on.

Ernst will face Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley in November for the seat of retiring Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin.

All the Republicans seeking the nomination described themselves as deeply conservative, but Ernst managed to stand out in part due to two television ads. One featured her on a farm, talking about her experience castrating hogs, and the other showed her firing a handgun.

Ernst also received endorsements from a variety of groups and individuals, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, National Rifle Association and Sarah Palin.

Seems like another pretty darn good night for Sarah Palin, which is weird, because liberals keep telling me she’s irrelevant.  I wonder if they might be wrong about that.

In Montana, Democrat John Walsh won his party’s nomination for Senate, and Steve Daines won the GOP primary.

In New Jersey, former Washington policy analyst Jeff Bell won a tight GOP primary, narrowly defeating computer consultant Richard Puzzollo.

The other two Republicans running in the low-budget primary were concrete contractor Brian Goldberg and business professor Murray Sabrin. Bell will in November face incumbent Democratic Sen. Cory Booker, who is considered a heavy favorite.

In New Mexico, former state GOP chairman Allan Weh won the party primary and will face incumbent Democratic Sen. Tom Udall in the fall.

In South Dakota, former Gov. Mike Rounds won the GOP primary and enters the November race as the favored to win the seat of retiring Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson. He will face Democrat Rick Weiland, who ran unopposed.

Democrats fielded no candidates in Alabama to oppose GOP Sen. Jeff Sessions, who was renominated without primary competition.

Normally I hate to see anyone, anywhere run unopposed, but Senator Sessions is one of the few politicians I can think of who isn’t tempted to rest on his laurels.  He’s one of the few people in Washington talking sense on the tidal wave of young illegal aliens Barack Obama has brought to our borders – a small taste of things to come, if the Democrat-Big Business amnesty chorus in Washington gets its way.