The difficulty for Mr. Cochran next week, many black politicians noted, is that while Mr. Cochran has received some African-American support in previous re-election bids, those ballots have been cast in the privacy of a general election voting booth. Walking into a Republican polling place is a far different thing.
“Whether they can cross over from a traditional Democratic habit to vote one time for a Republican, I just don’t know,” said former Representative Mike Espy, who in 1986 was the first African-American elected to Congress from Mississippi since Reconstruction. “I don’t know whether the black community can do that, but this is a reasonable suggestion.”
Some of Mr. Cochran’s supporters and some top black Mississippi Democrats say the suggestion is indeed reasonable because the senator is not an ideological firebrand and has used his status as a senior member of the Appropriations Committee to deliver projects to Mississippi. Mr. Simmons, who represents a largely black district in the Delta, reeled off the money that Mr. Cochran had secured for health centers, historically black colleges and infrastructure.
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“He has been able to do a lot of good for the state of Mississippi,” said Mr. Simmons, who said his efforts for Mr. Cochran were entirely voluntary. “He did not have to ask me, I told him I was supporting him.”
Mr. Thompson, whose district stretches from black neighborhoods here in the capital to the Delta in the west, would not go that far. But he made clear that he was not discouraging his supporters from backing Mr. Cochran, and he expressed concern about what Mr. McDaniel’s victory would mean for the poorest state in the country.
“Our state relies very heavily on the understanding that support from Washington is essential,” Mr. Thompson said. “For a person to run counter to that support is a threat to where we are now as a state.”