JACKSON – On the heels of a brutal Republican primary battle, Sen. Thad Cochran and his tea party-backed challenger, state Sen. Chris McDaniel, are gearing up for a fight-to-the death runoff on June 24.
Both campaigns were mapping out game plans after Tuesday’s primary resulted in a runoff.
“We’ll compete,” said Cochran, as he stepped off his campaign bus at a fast-food restaurant in Flowood on Wednesday. “We’re just getting around and meeting the voters and asking for their support in this election.”
Cochran noted that the race is important not only to Mississippi but to the GOP’s hopes of retaking control of the Senate.
It was his first public appearance since election results started rolling in late Tuesday showing the race was too close to call. The Associated Press called it Wednesday, reporting that results from 99 percent of the state’s precincts showed McDaniel ahead of Cochran by 1,386 votes, or 49.5 percent to 49 percent. A third candidate, Thomas Carey, took less than 2 percent.
McDaniel’s campaign said the runoff shows Mississippi wants a change.
“Chris McDaniel’s historic first-place finish on Tuesday is a clear sign of the groundswell of energy behind his campaign to bring a true conservative agenda to Washington, D.C.,” said Noel Fritsch, a spokesman for the campaign. “We look forward to a vigorous debate with Sen. Cochran on the issues over the next three weeks.”
Political experts said a runoff is bad news for Cochran because it would likely draw more of McDaniel’s backers.
“Turnout tends to be very low (and) tends to be party activists,” said Jennifer Duffy, senior editor at the Cook Political Report. “That is a not a great scenario for Cochran.”
Turnout will be key for both campaigns, experts said.
Cochran’s campaign officials said they still were developing a strategy for the runoff.
“When you go into a runoff… you have to shuffle deck chairs, figure out what we need to do,” said Austin Barbour, a senior adviser. “But most importantly, he’s going to be out there talking to voters, he’s going to be out there talking to his supporters all across the state, saying, ‘Look guys, I’m ready. I’m fighting. I need your help.'”
Republican Rep. Gregg Harper, a Cochran ally, said three weeks gives the campaign time.
“We’re going to do what we got to do to win the race,” said Harper, who traveled with Cochran on Wednesday. “I think people are energized. They know that the future of Mississippi is with Sen. Thad Cochran.”
McDaniel’s campaign officials didn’t detail their runoff strategy but said they have momentum.
“Chris is looking forward to continuing a vigorous debate about the issues most important to Mississippians over the next three weeks,” Fritsch said.
Outside interest groups and local political groups are expected to continue playing a key role ahead of the runoff.
“Mississippi is about to see a whole lot of money coming in for both candidates,” Duffy said. “Frankly, both sides tried to spend down their bank accounts. They’re both going to need financial support from these outside groups.”