Can Thad Cochran get Democrats to pull him over the finish line?

After the dust failed to entirely settle following the Mississippi GOP primary, sending us to a runoff between Senator Thad Cochran and state senator Chris McDaniel, Ed had the following to say about Cochran’s prospects.

[Cochran’s] inability to best McDaniel last night may have some Mississippi voters who supported the incumbent last night wonder whether it’s better to make a change now that is obviously inevitable, while those few who voted for someone other than the top two finishers are already looking for a Cochran alternative. The runoff will probably still be relatively close, but don’t be surprised to see McDaniel win by more than 51/49, either.

Team Cochran might have been reading Ed’s comments and taken notice. But rather than throwing their hands up in despair, reports indicate that they may have decided to attempt a rather unusual comeback strategy for a primary.

Senator Thad Cochran’s supporters opened Mississippi’s Republican Senate runoff on Wednesday by signaling that they would treat the race like a general election and seek the votes of Democrats and independents during the three-week campaign against State Senator Chris McDaniel.

The only reason this is a possibility is found in the rather free wheeling rules of Mississippi election law. Nobody registers by party, so anyone can vote in the election. The Democrats already have their nominee without the need for a runoff – and they’re highly unlikely to win the general election – so there’s nothing stopping them from voting in the GOP tiebreaker this month. Still, Matt Lewis seems somewhat skeptical.

The good news for Cochran is that Lieberman and Murkowski both found ways to expand their pool of voters and defy their party’s base — after having lost a primary contest. The bad news for Cochran is that they both did it in a General Election. It’s presumably going to be much harder for Cochran to get Democrats to turn out and vote in a Republican runoff election on some random Tuesday in June.

I’m not going to write this off as an impossible task, primarily because the margin between Cochran and McDaniel in the primary was pretty slender. I don’t think anyone is expecting McDaniel to suddenly surge to a 65% or more blowout in the runoff, even if it were limited to only actual Republicans voting. With that in mind, Cochran may not need a massive surge of insurgent Democrats to get him to 50.1%. But it would certainly be a strange and challenging course to follow.

First of all, we typically think of Republicans as needing to run to the Right in the primary and then glide back to the middle for the general election. This concept will force Cochran to essentially attempt a zig zag to the Left. I’m not sure what sort of sales pitch one makes to Mississippi Democrats in a situation like this. The only thing that comes to mind is to effectively say, “Look… you’re going to lose the general election anyway and wind up with a Republican in this Senate seat. Would you rather have me – the guy you already know – or that crazy Tea Party guy instead?

But even if that’s the pitch, you still have to get people out the door. Primary races are notoriously low in turnout as it is. This is a runoff in a non-election week. As Matt Lewis noted above, how motivated will Democrats be to show up on a Tuesday to vote for (or against) a candidate who’s not even from their own party?

UPDATE: (Jazz) A clarification on the potential number of democrats, helpfully provided in the comments.

Mississippi Run-off Rules

If a person voted in the Democratic primary Tuesday, he or she cannot vote in the June 24 Republican runoff — and vice-versa.

So, what Cochran is shooting for is Dem voters who didn’t come out to vote in the Dem primary last week.