Analysis: Runoff victory was costly - both in cash and goodwill

Runoff costly for GOP -- in cash and goodwill

jphampton@sunherald.comJune 25, 2014 

U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran and the old guard's victory in the Mississippi Republican primary cost the party dearly.

In one sense, the price tag is clear. Up to $13 million was spent in the race. That's money that won't be spent in states where the party hopes to pick up seats en route to control of the Senate.

Cochran's seat just a few months ago was considered 99 percent safe -- a Senate seat at a fire-sale price. In 2008, Cochran beat Erik Fleming by 766,111 votes to 480,915, not the sort of result that would have challengers lining up to take a shot at a long-serving senator.

"I know what that lonely feeling is like to be twisting in the wind or to be treated as the sacrificial lamb for 'the greater good,'" Democrat Fleming wrote in his blog earlier this year.

This year's Democratic nominee, Travis Childers, said just last year he would be "less apt" to run if Cochran were in.

That changed when Chris McDaniel entered the race.

The conventional wisdom was if Cochran retired, the scramble for the seat within the GOP would leave the winner bloodied and vulnerable. And with McDaniel, it was apparent from Day 1 the party was in for a bruising primary. That turned out to be an understatement.

"Not only is their party divided basically right down the middle," Childers told NBC's Chuck Todd in the Wednesday post mortem on the

runoff, "that has spilled over into and divided our state as a whole. And our state is not going to move ahead until somebody can put it back together and unify our state."

No pushover

Doesn't sound like much of a pushover. Remember, he received 185,959 votes when he won the District 1 seat. Granted, that was a presidential election year, but it also was just one of four districts in the state.

Hope the GOP's pockets are as bottomless as its detractors insist they are. Club for Growth and all those TEA Party groups who insisted Cochran was too liberal to serve aren't likely to be seen in Mississippi for some time. There are 49 other states to ravage.

And that unity Childers is talking about? McDaniel certainly isn't helping party Chairman Joe Nosef put the fractured party back together.

McDaniel hasn't even acknowledged he lost and he is threatening to mount a legal challenge to the black crossover voters, a challenge that could last perilously close to the November general election.

"It is our fight, conservatives, if necessary for years, if necessary, alone," he said in his non-concession speech Tuesday in Hattiesburg.

And it's not just McDaniel.

Richard Viguerie, a conservative activist, author and sometime candidate for decades, said the Mississippi race should put the rest of the GOP moderates in the country on notice.

"I'm still exceedingly optimistic that long term, conservatives are going to prevail," he said. "I'm from Texas and we still talk about 'Remember the Alamo.' Conservatives now for years to come will remember Mississippi."

Exacting a price

He said the establishment will pay a price, too.

"You have to wonder how long the party can survive when the leadership is at war with its base and the base is outraged," he said. "These are establishment politicians who are not accustomed to spending the year before a primary back home working and raising massive amounts of money. Every one of them is going to have to do that now. Every one is going to have to give up six months, 12 months of their life campaigning back at home."

That doesn't sound like the "life after June 24" Nosef had envisioned just days before the runoff.

In a pre-election email, he reminded Republicans, "We can't have our principles enacted into conservative policies unless we are in office. And we can't get into office unless we win elections.

"Finally, we cannot win elections unless we remain unified."

But there isn't much incentive for outside forces that wreaked havoc in Mississippi to unify with anyone but their accountants.

Jenny Beth Martin of the Tea Party Patriots is just one example. Her salary for running the Patriots and its political action committee is $450,000 a year. And her group and FreedomWorks, the Senate Conservatives Fund and the Club for Growth are big-money operations able to reward friends and family handsomely for their work and expertise.

"This experience only brings into focus that our fight is with an elitist, ruling class that will do anything to hold onto power," Martin wrote in an email. "We're not backing down from fighting for the conservative principles that allow people to pursue their American Dreams."

In Mississippi, the one person who could start the healing has yet to take a step in that direction.

Wednesday evening, McDaniel issued a statement that kept the prospect of a drawn-out challenge alive.

"In the coming days, our team will look into the irregularities to determine whether a challenge is warranted," he said. "After we've examined the data, we will make a decision about whether and how to proceed."

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