HATTIESBURG -- With an unusual assist from African-American voters and other Democrats who feared his opponent, Sen. Thad Cochran on Tuesday beat back a spirited challenge from state Sen. Chris McDaniel, triumphing in a Republican runoff and defeating the Tea Party in the state where the movement's hopes were bright.
"We all have a right to be proud of our state tonight," Cochran said at his victory party in Jackson, Mississippi. "This is your victory."
McDaniel, speaking in Hattiesburg, was angry and did not hesitate to say so.
"There is something a bit strange, there is something a bit unusual about a Republican primary that's decided by liberal Democrats," he said.
He accused Cochran of abandoning the conservative movement.
"So much for principles," he said.
Cochran ran a largely sleepy campaign until the primary June 3, when he was edged out by McDaniel but won enough votes to keep McDaniel from winning outright. Cochran used the past three weeks to turn out Democratic voters - especially African-Americans - to make up that deficit.
A surge of voters showed up Tuesday in African-American precincts and in Cochran's other strongholds to make the difference and surprise McDaniel, who just Monday night declared his campaign had gone from impossible to improbable to unstoppable.
Their high numbers came despite pledges by conservative political action committees to monitor turnout in Democratic areas targeted by Cochran's campaign. Both the NAACP - which sent its own poll watchers - and the U.S. Justice Department expressed concerns about the possible intimidation of black Democrats, but no irregularities were reported to Mississippi election officials.
It was an extraordinary end to a wild campaign, with a Republican standing up for the rights of black Democrats, and with Tea Party groups from the North, especially the Senate Conservatives Fund, crying foul.
For months, the contest between Cochran and McDaniel was viewed as this year's main event in the six-year clash between conservative activists and Republican incumbents.
But after the surprise primary defeat this month of Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia, the House majority leader, the Mississippi contest took on greater significance. Outside conservative groups hoped to emerge with a second victory that would propel challenges in Tennessee and perhaps Kansas.
Instead, establishment Republicans and a surprisingly high number of Democrats helped deliver a come-from-behind victory for a senator known for his soft-spoken patrician air and his ability to bring home millions in dollars of federal spending.