“When we realized there was going to be a runoff, we thought McDaniel was capped with his support and that Sen. Cochran had a lot more upside he could tap into,” said Henry Barbour, who ran a pro-Cochran super PAC and served as the driving force behind the Mississippi GOP Establishment’s push.
The Cochran campaign and its supporters made key adjustments for the two-week runoff campaign, changes that were at least partly enabled by Mississippi election law. The state doesn’t register voters by party and all primaries are open, with runoffs open to all registered voters, whether they voted in the initial primary or not, as long as they did not vote in another party’s primary.
Both Cochran and McDaniel increased their vote totals from the June 3 primary, but Cochran finished on top by 2 percentage points, 51 percent to 49 percent, or almost 7,000 votes, in round two.
Here are the factors credited by the pro-Cochran forces for the win:
• Courting non-traditional voters. The Cochran campaign and the outside groups that supported the senator make no bones about it: They targeted voters who typically vote Democrat, including teachers, union members and African-Americans.
Cochran supporters feared that McDaniel could be vulnerable in the general election to former Rep. Travis Childers, the Democratic nominee. This helped boost votes for Cochran among voters who consider themselves Republicans and support the senator but had skipped the primary because they assumed the incumbent would win easily, as he has for decades.
But, ironically, Cochran profited from the expectation that McDaniel was a shoo-in to win in November given Mississippi’s conservative tilt, as it convinced probably thousands of voters who typically vote Democrat to cross over and back Cochran in the runoff. McDaniel’s vow to reign in government spending and stop federal money that Cochran has directed to Mississippi over the years helped close the deal.