Jilted primary supporters thought they could show how conservative they were by in fact voting for President Obama’s chosen Democrat in the Mississippi Senate race and claimed their influence would turn the tide for Travis Childers and defeat Thad Cochran on election day.
It did not happen.
In actuality, most self-identified Tea Party voters voted for Thad Cochran on Election Day. The protest vote or any significant influx of Tea Party crossover votes aimed at propping up the Democrat turned out to be a mere social media mirage.
If you take an honest, dispassionate look at the numbers from the Thad Cochran and Travis Childers race, comparing them with previous elections, what you will find is that Cochran, despite the hype, maintained his conservative Republican support while increasing turnout of black supporters, a feat necessary for future conservative electoral successes.
Let’s start with 2014.
Thad Cochran won 58 of 82 counties. He defeated Childers 60.4% to 37.4% – a 23 point spread. Cochran garnered 370,000 votes to Childers’ 229,000. Total voter turnout was just under 613,000.
This year is of course the midterm of President Barack Obama’s second term.
In 2006, the midterm of former President George W. Bush’s second term, Republican incumbent Trent Lott was challenged by Democrat Erik Fleming, a far less regarded challenger than Childers. Lott won 63.6%, or 388,000 votes, to 34.9%, or 213,000 votes, with a total voter turnout of just over 611,000.
When you compare the 2006 US Senate election to 2014, voter turnout was similar yet the difference is clearly seen in the caliber of the Democratic opponent as well as in the “Cochran-ing” by outside groups spending millions to create an anti-Thad intra party struggle; Lott did not face such a power play.
Democrat Fleming would run again for US Senate in 2008, that time challenging Cochran. Here’s where the story of Cochran’s 2014 win really begins to stand out.
Cochran defeated Fleming in 2008 61.4% to 38.67%, or in terms of votes 766,000 to 481,000. This of course was the general election where Barack Obama won versus John McCain. It was the highest presidential voter turnout in Mississippi history. Black voters as well as conservatives turned out in droves. Cochran still won 59 counties that year.
Now let’s compare 2008 (Obama’s first presidential election year) with 2014 in terms of black voter turnout as well traditional GOP strongholds in selected counties.
Total voter turnout was close to half between the two cycles – upwards of 1.2 million in 2008 versus just under 613,000 in 2014.
Democrats will use this to say Obama gained more votes (555,000) than Cochran in Mississippi, but that in itself is a flawed analysis when you see that McCain took 725,000. Truth is, midterms just don’t draw voters out like a hot presidential election year or even a statewide election year with a governor’s race atop the ballot (close to 900,000 total votes in 2011).
But in the five Mississippi counties I reviewed for black voter turnout exit polling in 2008 and 2014, Cochran increased in every one.
Claiborne – 18% (2008) to 26% (2014)
Holmes – 24% (2008) to 30% (2014)
Issaquena – 44% (2008) to 52% (2014)
Jefferson – 17% (2008) to 22% (2014)
Sharkey – 37% (2008) to 49% (2014)
This shows Thad Cochran enjoyed support from black voters well before 2014 and efforts made during this cycle directly by the campaign (not outside groups which some have criticized) proved to be a positive for Cochran and hopefully the Mississippi Republican Party as a whole, as making inroads into the black community with the conservative message should be seen as a positive step long term for the party.
Traditional Republican stronghold counties and those counties in play in the Cochran-McDaniel primary also held strong for the senior Senator despite the anti-Thad rhetoric by some “conservatives” when comparing six years ago to today.
Desoto – 72% (2008) to 67% (2014)
Forrest – 65% (2008) to 64% (2014)
Lamar – 83% (2008) to 77% (2014)
Madison – 64% (2008) to 67% (2014)
Lauderdale – 65% (2008) to 71% (2014)
When you look at Cochran’s electoral history as a whole, this 2014 race was the first real challenge he’s faced since Democrats ran Gov. William Winter against him in 1984. Cochran won that race with 60.9% of the vote compared to 60.4% in 2014.
Previous Cochran wins for US Senate:
1978 – 45.3%
1984 – 60.9% versus Winter
1990 – 100% unopposed
1996 – 71% versus Bootie Hunt (try that name today with social media)
2002 – 84.6% versus perennial candidate Shawn O’Hara
2008 – 61.4% versus Fleming
2014 – 60.4% versus Childers
For all the Republican sky is falling Chicken Little chatter by the Tea Party and out of state talking heads, 2014 had the same fairy tale ending Thad Cochran has enjoyed throughout his prolific electoral history in Mississippi, thanks to the voters who once again put principles over personalities and results over rhetoric.
(On a side note: Cochran bookends his campaigning by defeating two Jones County state senators in a GOP primary: Charles Pickering in 1978 and Chris McDaniel in 2014.)