Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) overcame tea party-backed challenger Chris McDaniel in a runoff Tuesday night after finishing second behind him in the primary three weeks ago. Although he now faces a Democrat in November, Cochran’s runoff victory likely secures him a whopping seventh term in the U.S. Senate.
Alabamians were paying unusually close attention to the out-of-state race because of its potential impact on the committee assignments of one of our own U.S. senators, Richard Shelby.
Yellowhammer explained in a piece three weeks ago:
The national media has been paying close attention to the Cochran-McDaniel race. Many of them are framing it as an indication of whether the so-called establishment is finally positioned to declare ultimate victory over the tea party.
But Alabamians have a much different reason to pay close attention to what happens over the next 21 days in Mississippi.
Thad Cochran is the second-longest serving Republican in the Senate. If he wins and Republicans retake the Senate in November, he will become the chairman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, the panel that plays a leading role in deciding where the government spends its money. Alabama’s senior U.S. Senator Richard Shelby would be the second-ranking member of the Appropriations Committee, and would become the chairman of the Banking Committee, another powerful panel that deals with a wide range of issues directly impacting the economy, from financial institutions and the Federal Reserve to housing finance.
However, if Cochran loses his runoff in Mississippi, Shelby would be well positioned at that point to move over to chair Appropriations.
That is a huge deal for a couple of reasons.
First of all, Shelby is already a legendary deal maker on the Appropriations Committee. There is a reason why universities around the state have research facilities named after him. He even managed to get a line item in President Obama’s budget — as a Republican — that starts the process of expanding the Port of Mobile.
Secondly, with Republicans in control of the Senate, Alabama’s junior U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions would become the chairman of the Budget Committee, which sets the federal government’s spending levels. So there is a very realistic scenario in which one Alabama senator (Sessions) would set the spending amount, and the other Alabama senator (Shelby) would lead the debate on where that amount of money is spent.
With Cochran’s victory, that scenario is no longer likely.
When Cochran came in second to McDaniel in the primary, history was not on his side.
“(I)t’s rare for an incumbent to improve his or her performance in a runoff, as Cochran did,” explained Aaron Blake of the Washington Post. “And more often than not, the challenger surges in a big way. Of the last seven incumbents facing primary runoffs in big-ticket races, all but two have fared significantly worse in the runoff, ceding around 75 percent (or more) of the “up for grabs” votes to the challenger.”
Here’s the shift in the last eight primary runoffs, with the challenger in green:
So how did Cochran do it? In short, he convinced Democrats to crossover and vote for him in Mississippi’s Republican primary.
More from the Washington Post:
He convinced black voters to be for him. According to the Fix’s Philip Bump, runoff turnout in the 24 counties with a black population of 50 percent or more was up almost 40 percent from the primary. In all other counties, turnout was up just 16 percent. That is an absolutely stunning stat — and tells much of the story of the runoff. Cochran’s ability to convince a strongly Democratic constituency to be for him — despite the fact that every Democratic consultant believed McDaniel gave the party a better chance to win the seat in the fall — is simply remarkable.
Yellowhammer warned of a similar strategy in Alabama this year. With all of the action in Republican primaries now, the teachers’ union and liberal activists launched a coordinated effort to get traditionally Democratic voting blocs to the polls to vote not for Democrats, but for their chosen Republicans.
In most races they were unsuccessful, but they were able to pick up a couple of state house seats.
The question for Alabama moving forward is, will the Cochran victory increase the already growing number of people calling for the state to close it’s primaries?
Alabama Republican Party Chairman Bill Armistead has already vocally backed party registration.
“Republicans ought to pick Republican nominees,” Armistead said recently. “Democrats ought to pick Democratic nominees.”
State Democratic Party Chairwoman Nancy Worley said she supports party registration as well.
Alabama is one of only 11 states in the country that currently has open primaries. Do you think it’s time for that to change? Let us know in the comment section below or by tweeting @YHPolitics.
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