Her argument: Gracious losers tend to get another shot at running whereas sore losers end up being discarded. I’d be keen to see FiveThirtyEight or The Upshot confirm or debunk that with data, but never mind that.
Is what she saying true in McDaniel’s case? Even if he bowed out today and endorsed Cochran, the whole lesson of this primary is that the Mississippi GOP establishment will do whatever takes, including recruiting Democratic voters for a Republican primary, to beat someone who threatens their gravy train.
Cochran won the runoff by 7,667 votes, according to the certified vote count announced this week. McDaniel’s partisans don’t just have to prove that more than 7,000 ineligible voters went to the polls, but also that they all voted for Cochran, not McDaniel. Good luck with that.
There’s no reason to think that a majority of Mississippi Republicans didn’t want Cochran as their nominee. A lot of them might not have bothered to vote in the first primary, on the assumption that the long-serving, popular incumbent was not at risk…
McDaniel’s team complains about what Cochran’s supporters said about its guy? Nothing compares to that ugly nursing home stunt.
But some McDaniel supporters can’t think about anything but winning this one primary. They don’t care that they’re gambling with a Republican majority in the Senate — or destroying McDaniel’s future prospects. (Which could come soon — Cochran isn’t getting any younger.) As the nation goes up in smoke, they act as if the future of the country is nothing compared to their color war at summer camp.
Actually, there’s plenty of reason to think that a majority of Republicans preferred McDaniel. The data blogs have looked closely at the county returns in Mississippi at least twice, once in a day-after analysis at FiveThirtyEight by Harry Enten and again just yesterday in an Upshot piece by Nate Cohn and Derek Willis. Verdict: Black voters, who of course are overwhelmingly Democratic, were the difference. Enten estimated that black votes may have meant as much as 10 points to Cochran, propelling him from what otherwise would have been an eight-point(!) loss in the runoff to a two-point win. Cohn and Willis went precinct by precinct through one Mississippi county with a large black population and ended up marveling at how much higher turnout was for the runoff than for the first GOP primary between Cochran and McDaniel. “The data strongly suggests,” they concluded, “that higher black and Democratic turnout covered the entirety of Mr. Cochran’s margin of victory.” It’s not out of the question that 40,000 more Obama supporters voted in the runoff than the initial primary; Cohn and Willis suspect that they broke for Cochran by a margin of 20 to 1, which helps explain why he ended up with 33,000+ more votes in the runoff than he did a few weeks earlier. Subtract those Democratic votes, leaving an electorate comprised of Republicans and right-leaning indies, and McDaniel almost certainly wins.
None of that is illegal, though, or at least not provably so. As long as those voters didn’t also vote in the Democratic primary, they were free to vote in the GOP runoff. (State law requires that they intend to vote for the primary winner in the general election too but there’s no way to enforce that.) On the other hand, I’m not sure Coulter’s right that Team McDaniel would need to prove not only that there were 7,000+ invalid votes cast by people who voted in the Democratic primary but that those votes all went to Cochran. Why do you have to prove which candidate they were cast for? If the number of invalid votes is greater than the margin of victory, the legitimacy of the outcome is in question.
Back to my first point, though. Even if McDaniel suddenly dropped out, backed Cochran, and kneeled before Haley Barbour to kiss his ring, he’s still going to be a pork-slashing tea partier when all of this is over, right? Why would Mississippi’s establishment be interested in backing someone like that? The reason the Barbourites cajoled Cochran into running again isn’t because they can’t imagine a future without Thad, it’s because they can’t imagine a future without someone like Thad. And if Thad had retired this year, leaving McDaniel to face a lesser known establishmentarian who didn’t have Cochran’s incumbency advantage, the tea partier might have won the seat. Mississippi’s cronies want a fellow crony in the Senate; if McDaniel’s willing to rethink his politics and be that crony, then he has a future. (Especially since his tea-party cred will keep right-wing objections at bay, at least for awhile.) If he isn’t then it doesn’t matter if he’s a gracious loser or not, in which case he might as well do everything he can to have this election result overturned. This may, after all, be the closest he ever gets to the Senate: Roger Wicker, the other senator from Mississippi, is a spry 63 years old and just won a new term in 2012 so it may be decades before he’s vulnerable. Meanwhile, Cochran will probably retire during his new term, clearing the way for some new establishment crony to fill his seat. That’s McDaniel’s best fallback plan potentially: Although Gov. Phil Bryant can fill a vacancy temporarily via appointment, Mississippi is required to hold a special election within 100 days to fill the seat. McDaniel would have an advantage over the rest of the field now that he’s built a name in the state. However, if the vacancy happens in an election year, the special election is held the same day as the general election. In other words, if Cochran retires early in 2016, Bryant could appoint a Barbourite to the seat and let him build name recognition and incumbency for months before the special election. And all of that assumes, of course, that Mississippi Republicans won’t try to change the vacancy rules so that Bryant can appoint someone for even longer.
Exit question: Why doesn’t Haley Barbour himself fill Cochran’s eventual vacancy? He’s got the name and the money to keep McDaniel and the tea partiers at bay.