Cochran wins Madison with lower turnout
Wednesday, June 4, 2014 1:00 PM
A low voter turnout in Madison County where incumbent U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran won 61.1 percent of the vote contributed to what still appears to be a run-off with challenger Chris McDaniel, local Republican officials said.
Compared to Republican votes in the 2012 presidential election, turnout was down 66 percent in Madison County. But turnout was slightly higher than the 2012 presidential primary here.
"Across the board, turnout was down," said Madison County Republican Party Chairman John Taylor. "Every precinct I went to, everyone was just tired of the advertising and tired of the mudslinging. People got fed up with it and didn't care about voting for either one."
Statewide, with 97 percent of precincts reporting, Cochran's challenger State Senator Chris McDaniel led 49.5 percent to 49 percent, a difference of roughly 1,400 votes, as of press time. Neither candidate could apparently reach the 50 percent plus one mark needed to avoid a June 24 runoff.
"I think a run-off probably plays to McDaniel's advantage, probably just because of low turnout," Henry Barbour, who created the Mississippi Conservatives super PAC, which spent nearly $1.7 million on Mr. Cochran's behalf, told The Washington Times.
Now that voters realize McDaniel is for real, Cochran needs a better ground game to get out the vote, said one Madison County Republican observer.
Cochran will need more money, he said, not just for ads, but to raise grass roots support.
The Washington-based Club for Growth PAC - which along with other out-of-state interests spent about $5 million on McDaniel - publicly urged Cochran to drop out of the run-off.
McDaniel sent out his own plea for money early Wednesday morning, saying, "I'm going to be brutally honest with you: our campaign is pretty low on money and there's no way we can win if conservatives from around Mississippi and America don't stand up and make sure we have the resources we need to win."
If Madison County voters had showed up in the numbers they did in the last federal election and voted similarly to those who did vote Tuesday, Cochran would have likely avoided a run-off.
GOP chairman Taylor added that he thought the chancery clerk race would fill the gap, but was surprised to see it did not.
"We prepared for over 20,000 voters," he said. "We hired poll workers based on that." Only about 15,000 voters turned out in Madison County.
Madison County Circuit Clerk Lee Westbrook said if the turnout had been comparable to the 2012 presidential election, when 26,000 Republican votes were cast, there likely would be no need for a runoff in the U.S. Senate race at all.
"I knew it was going to be a light turnout," she said. "But I was shocked."
Even more odd is the fact that the poor turnout came on a night when numbers were up across the state. Wednesday morning results showed that just over 300,000 voters cast ballots in Mississippi - a number similar to the 2012 primary, which was a presidential election year.
The anti-incumbency and anti-Washington wave that has swept the country did not spare some voters in Madison County, where several McDaniel supporters said they chose to vote for the state senator over the sixth-term U.S. Senator to give someone new a chance to try their hand in Washington.
Clarke Herrin of Madison said he voted for McDaniel because he wasn't an incumbent, and wouldn't consider David Overby or Ronny Lott for chancery clerk because, he believed they were running on family names.
"I'm tired of the political machine," Herrin said. "It's time to shake things up."
McDaniel received a late bump from campaign stops around the state last week, when he was joined by national Tea Party darlings Sarah Palin, the former Alaskan Governor and Fox News contributor, and former Presidential hopeful Rick Santorum.
Madison voter Warren Gunn, who voted at Victory Baptist Church on Hoy Road, said he also cast his ballot for Chris McDaniel.
"I'm sick of the status quo," Gunn said. "I just figure McDaniel is a new face and has new ideas, and I wanted to see what he can do."
In the end, McDaniel's campaign was hindered, at least in Madison County, by Cochran's appeal to everyday conservatives and the unforeseen negative reaction to attack ads. Those ads continued to air on radio and television stations, even after blogger Clayton Kelly and three conspirators were arrested after Kelly sneaked into Madison retirement home St. Catherine's Village to take photos of Cochran's infirmed wife, Rose Cochran, for use in an independent negative advertisement.
McDaniel was never directly tied to the break-in, but each of the four men arrested in connection to it were ardent McDaniel supporters, including one who was a Mississippi Tea Party executive.
The Cochran campaign ran ads tying McDaniel to the alleged perpetrators, which seemed to hit home for Madison County voters.
One voter at First Presbyterian Church of Madison, who declined to give his name, said the negative ads that came from the McDaniel camp pushed him to want to vote for Cochran, even if he tended to agree with McDaniel's overall message.
"It just got to be too much," he said of the ads. "It just seemed like piling on after (the nursing home break-in)."
Adrian Brantly of Ridgeland, who voted at Highland Colony Church, said Cochran earned her vote on his own merits, but added that she did not totally ignore how the candidates ran their respective campaigns, either.
"I think [Cochran's] seniority is good for Mississippi," she said. "I think that the other candidate is not of good integrity."
Val Moore of Ridgeland was another Cochran voter who said the U.S. Senator's experience played a big role in winning his vote.
"I think he's an experienced guy who can do more for Mississippi," Moore said.
McDaniel received overwhelming support in all-important DeSoto County (65 percent to Cochran's 35) and pulled off a shocking victory in Jackson County (49.5 percent to 47.5 percent), long a Cochran stronghold on the coast. He overwhelmingly carried the 4th Congressional District.
Rankin County, another conservative bastion, was almost dead even.