In a remarkable political turnaround, six-term Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi edged out tea party-backed challenger Chris McDaniel Tuesday night in a bruising, costly Republican runoff that pitted Washington clout against insistence on conservative purity.
With 99 percent of precincts reporting, Cochran had 51 percent to McDaniel’s 49 percent, three weeks after McDaniel had beaten the veteran lawmaker in the initial primary round but had fallen short of the majority needed for nomination. In the three-week dash to the runoff, Cochran and his allies had highlighted his seniority and Washington clout while McDaniel had argued that Cochran was part of a Washington blight of federal overspending.
The victory for a stalwart of the Senate Appropriations Committee was a fresh blow to the tea party movement, which spent millions to cast aside Cochran, a mainstream Republican who won a U.S. House seat in President Richard Nixon’s GOP wave of 1972 and has served in the Senate for more than three decades.
Despite Congress’ abysmal public approval ratings, incumbents have largely prevailed midway through the primary season – with two notable exceptions.
Little-known college professor Dave Brat knocked out House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in Virginia’s Republican primary this month, and Republican Rep. Ralph Hall, 91, lost in a Texas runoff to a younger Republican.
McDaniel declared as he voted Tuesday, “We are here, we’re going to fight for our belief system no matter what, and we’re going to reclaim Washington, D.C., one race at a time.”
Cochran and his allies, including former Gov. Haley Barbour, highlighted his decades on the Appropriations Committee and his work directing billions in federal dollars to his home state, one of the poorest in the nation.
The Mississippi contest was the marquee race on a busy June primary day that included New York, Oklahoma, Colorado, Maryland and Utah.
Rangel, one of the founders of the Congressional Black Caucus, drew criticism last month when he dismissed the 59-year-old Espaillat as a candidate whose only accomplishment was to be a Dominican in a majority Latino district. Two years ago, Rangel prevailed in the primary by fewer than 1,100 votes.