Turnout unpredictable in final day of the Mississippi Senate runoff

Turnout unpredictable in GOP Senate runoff

jphampton@sunherald.comJune 23, 2014 

A wild finish to the Republican runoff was expected and it didn't disappoint.

In the past 36 hours:

A driver cut off the Tea Party Express bus at a Y intersection in rural Mississippi, honked and made an obscene gesture, a Tea Party supporter on the bus said. The same bus earlier had a flat tire that delayed a rally about an hour.

A DeSoto County staffer of the Sen. Thad Cochran campaign was fired after he was arrested on charges that he destroyed some of state Sen. Chris McDaniel's campaign signs in Southhaven.

Cochran's daughter Kate made a fiery Facebook post that briefly became a McDaniel meme with the hashtag Who'sYaDaddy. The McDaniel post quickly came down but not before Washington Post reporter Bob Costa took a screenshot.

Then there was the robocall with the script that begins: "The time has come to say no to the Tea Party, no to their disrespectful treatment of the first African American president." Each side blames the other for that one, which has no name attached.

And finally, they are arguing over the black vote. And not over who will get the black vote either. It's complicated.

And if any of this makes you squeamish, you'll probably want to avoid the mssen hashtag on Twitter.

Meanwhile both sides are mounting the usual 11th hour ground games to get out the vote.

Turnout is key

Around midday Monday, the Secretary of State's Office released county-by-county absentee balloting, touching off another round of tea leaf reading. Cochran appears to have the advantage there with an increase in absentee balloting in the counties he won. Whether it is a predictor of turnout in an otherwise unpredictable race remains to be seen.

Circuit clerks on the Coast certainly aren't going out on any such limb.

"It's hard to predict," said Harrison County Circuit Clerk Gayle Parker. "Last time we had a bad thunderstorm right at 8 in the morning and that could have kept some people away."

She's hoping for better weather and a better turnout in Harrison County where fewer than a quarter of registered voters cast ballots.

"It costs a lot of money and this is a very important election," she said. But there are about 200 fewer absentee ballots this time, she said.

Ground zero on the Coast

In Jackson County, there were about 150 more absentee ballots for the runoff. The county was one of the primary surprises, going for McDaniel by a narrow margin in what the establishment Republicans assumed was a Cochran stronghold.

Both sides have hit the county hard, particularly at Ingalls Shipbuilding, an industry fueled by government contracts.

There was a slight dropoff in absentees in Pearl River County, which favored McDaniel in the primary.

And McDaniel's home county, Jones, reported just 213 absentee ballots in a county where more than 13,000 people voted in the GOP primary. A recorded message said the circuit clerk's phone "isn't accepting calls."

Unpredictable

Mainstream media isn't venturing much of a guess either.

The Washington Post's The Fix started it's turnout post with: "Let's get one thing out of the way at the outset: No one really knows what's going to happen in Tuesday's run-off."

It concludes that Hinds and Jones counties are the ones to watch on election night. McDaniel took Jones by a 71 percent margin. Hinds has the largest percentage of black voters, the group Cochran has been pursuing.

The New York Times' The Upshot says the runoff defies convention wisdom, and a piece of that wisdom is runoffs have lower turnouts. The Times concludes there are good reasons to believe that won't happen Tuesday.

So the final 24 hours has been all about getting out the vote.

Getting out the vote

The pro-Cochran Mississippi Conservatives PAC has stepped up its ground game.

"We've got walkers, phone banks, we're calling church lists, school lists, using social media," said Brian Perry of the PAC.

He said he thinks many Cochran supporters didn't vote last time because they didn't think Cochran had much of a challenge.

"They woke up," he said.

McDaniel has Tea Party groups, such as the Tea Party Patriots Citizens Fund, helping his voter turnout effort.

Kevin Broughton of the Patriots PAC says enthusiasm for McDaniel hasn't waned.

He said the PAC will spend about $300,000 on the effort including people going door to door in the Jackson metro area, the Memphis suburbs of DeSoto County and on the Coast.

"The intensity and enthusiasm is there," he said.

So it could come down to the weather. On the Coast, the best chance of a thunderstorm is around 9 a.m. and 3 p.m., according to Accuweather.

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