Primary day in 7 states; Mississippi Senate runoff goes down to the wire
One of the last big primary days of the year features GOP races for Senate nominations in two states, as well as contests that will decide the fate of two New York congressmen; Charles Rangel and moderate GOP Rep. Richard Hannah.
The GOP Senate runoff in Mississippi is getting most of the headlines. Six term incumbent Senator Thad Cochran is battling for his political life against state Senator Chris McDaniel. McDaniel got more votes in their June 3 contest but failed to crack 50%, hence the runoff.
Polls mostly favor McDaniel, and historically the challenger does well in a runoff against a long time incumbent. But this has not been an ordinary race. It's easily the dirtiest primary campaign involving either party this election cycle. Voter anger may be stoked for both candidates, which is a big wildcard in today's runoff.
As the Wall Street Journal explains, the race is a clash of political philosophies with Cochran claiming he brings home federal spending that helps the state and McDaniel claims that's the problem:
The resulting three-week sprint has brought an array of political oddities. The primary isn't party-registration based, so Mr. Cochran's supporters are fighting to turn out the state's African-American voters—who are primarily Democrats—to vote for him. Mr. McDaniel's supporters are crying foul, citing a seemingly unenforceable quirk in state law that forbids voting in a party runoff if the voter intends to vote for a Democrat in the November general election.
And Mr. McDaniel's team on Monday seized on a Facebook FB -0.21% posting by Mr. Cochran's daughter, a professor at the University of Southern Mississippi. In a long treatise trying to make the point that Mr. McDaniel's team values political ignorance, Ms. Cochran wrote that Mr. McDaniel "relies solely on Jesus, the Constitution, and common sense."
"She's exactly right," Mr. McDaniel responded on his Facebook page.
Mississippi's runoff comes after establishment GOP Senate candidates notched victories in primaries in North Carolina, Kentucky and South Carolina. But Republicans in central Virginia dumped House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in favor of professor David Brat on June 10, leaving Mr. McDaniel's supporters—almost none of whom ever mentioned Mr. Cantor's race before two weeks ago—touting it as evidence of their momentum.
Meanwhile Mr. Cochran, 76 years old, has spent the runoff making the argument that Mississippi can't afford to lose his experience and clout in the Senate. After running a lethargic pre-primary campaign, he has boasted about federal funds he has secured for the state's military and educational institutions.
But during an era in which Republicans abhor virtually all federal spending, Mr. McDaniel has said the state doesn't need an appropriator in the Senate. He has suggested that the state should refuse the billions in federal spending on its schools, highways and to help rebuild the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina.
I've spoken to a couple of people who participated in a Tea Party Express tour of the state last week. McDaniel would appear to have the momentum, as large, enthusiastic crowds greeted him at every stop. And Cochran's outreach to black Democrats has to be seen as a sign of desperation.
It will be close, but McDaniel should win.
Another race in Oklahoma for the GOP Senate nomination is similar too, but not quite the same as the Tea Party vs. Establishment contest in Mississippi. Rep. James Lankford, a Baptist minister supported by Christian groups around the state, as well as the Chamber of Commerce. T.W. Shannon, former speaker of the Oklahoma House,is African American and a member of the Chickasaw Nation. He has the support of national Tea Party groups as well as the Senate Conservative Fund.
But this is not a typical tea party versus establishment fight. It's a complicated struggle featuring two candidates who blur the lines between the competing corners of the GOP and are reluctant to identify exclusively with either one.
Lankford is a member of House GOP leadership who has a strong base of religious conservative supporters built from his time outside politics running the largest Christian youth camp in the country. Shannon is not a member of Congress, but he used to work for two of them.
The two are competing with five other Republicans for the seat of Sen. Tom Coburn (R), who is stepping down two years early at the end of this Congress. There are shades of the wildly popular senator in both Shannon and Lankford, close watchers say.
Shannon is no stranger to politics. He cut his teeth working for Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) and former congressman J.C. Watts (R-Okla.), the first African American Republican elected to Congress from a Southern state since Reconstruction. Shannon made history of his own in 2013, becoming Oklahoma's first black House speaker.
He also boasts the support of Sarah Palin, Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) and the Senate Conservatives Fund. But local tea party activists have not been as warm. When Cruz, Lee and Palin declared their support for Shannon, local tea party organizations complained Shannon was anointed without their input.
Lankford, 46, rejected the notion that he is the political insider in the race.
"I have served in Congress for three years," he said in an interview, adding that Shannon has served in the state House since 2007 and worked for members of Congress before that.
Still, Lankford is leaning on his experience to distinguish himself from his leading opponent.
The most recent polls show Lankford ahead, but neither man is expected to top 50%. That would mean a runoff later this summer.
Elsewhere, 22 term Congressman Charles Rangel is attempting to fight off a challenge from state Sen. Adriano Espaillat. Rangel defeated him by 1,000 votes in 2012 and is leading this time around too.
Also, moderate Rep. Richard Hannah is being dogged by a Tea Party conservative, state Senator Claudia Tenney. Some in the national media are comparing this race to the Eric Cantor-David Blat contest. But Hannah isn't Cantor and the kind of perfect storm that was present in Virginia is not likely to be repeated in the 22nd congressional district of New York.