Thad Cochran’s long and noteworthy political career has, in a sense, run full circle.
When he was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 1978, he competed in what was rare at the time – a Republican primary. In that contest, a paltry 73,737 votes were cast with 50,857 of them to Cochran to capture the party nomination against former state Sen. Charles Pickering of Jones County.
On the Democratic side, a whopping 378,224 people voted in the primary where then-District Attorney Maurice Dantin of Columbia, and then-Gov. Cliff Finch advanced to the runoff. In the runoff, 361,015 people returned to the polls to select Dantin as the Democratic nominee.
Of course, we all know that in November 1978, Cochran won the election with 263,089 votes after receiving just 50,857 in the primary. This June we have seen just the opposite occur. On the Republican side, 318,902 people voted in the June 3 primary, which was at the time a record turnout for a Republican primary.
Neither state Sen. Chris McDaniel of Jones County nor Cochran garnered a majority of the votes in the primary, forcing a runoff on June 24 where in still incomplete returns 376,323 people voted, with Cochran winning 50.9 percent of the vote or an advantage of about 6,700 votes.
Meanwhile, over on the Democratic side, 85,866 people voted with former U.S. Rep. Travis Childers of Booneville advancing to the November general election.
Of course, we will have to see what occurs in November – whether Childers can dramatically increase his vote count from the primary to the general election as Cochran did in 1978. But currently, McDaniel supporters have been raising a ruckus since election night over the fact that apparently people who routinely vote in the Democratic primary participated in the runoff election and perhaps gave Cochran his margin of victory.
Some refer to illegal votes.
Let’s be clear here – if a person voted in the June 3 Democratic primary and then someway sneaked through and participated in the June 24 Republican runoff, then he or she voted illegally. And the McDaniel campaign has every right to examine the ballots for such occurrences.
But under Mississippi law, a person has no party registration and can vote in the primary of choice. Countless people vote in the Republican primary one year because they like a particular candidate and in the Democratic primary the next. Even McDaniel has done that in the past.
What occurred this election cycle is most likely nothing more than additional proof that the Republican Party is now the dominant party in the state.