In mid-June, just days before the Mississippi Senate runoff election, Tom Donohue, the hard-nosed CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, was commiserating over drinks with Scott Reed, his senior political strategist, and Chip Pickering, a former Mississippi congressman-turned-telecom lobbyist.
The trio were smarting. After racking up an enviable 10-0 winning streak in midterm races, Mississippi voters dealt the powerful business lobby a major blow: Cochran, a Senate stalwart supported by the Chamber and its allies in the Republican establishment, had stumbled in his primary battle with Chris McDaniel, a smooth-talking state senator backed by tea party groups. The two Republicans were now facing off in a three-week duel that, to many, looked like a lost cause. American Crossroads, the Karl Rove-backed GOP group that had been supporting Cochran, announced that it was pulling out of the race.
Making matters worse for Donohue and his colleagues, McDaniel was a hated trial attorney, a specimen Chamber-types have viewed with blood-curdling contempt.