Reflections on the McDaniels Loss

A few weeks ago, Sabato’s Crystal Ball ran an analysis of primary runoffs and noted that the last time there was an increase in turnout from the regular primary to the runoff was 30 years ago in Oklahoma.  The second time was in Mississippi yesterday.  Generally speaking, lower turnout favors a challenger.  The increased turnout in Mississippi in the runoff carried Cochran to victory.

No doubt, McDaniels’ loss will be portrayed as another nail in the coffin of the tea party.  As I have argued in previous entries, the tea party is more of a conscience for the GOP than an electoral force within the party.  This year, for example, only two tea party candidates have advanced to the general election and one of them ran unopposed in his primary.  The other garnered less than 50% of the vote in a 4-man race.  Tea Party candidates in the Senate primaries are a big zero thus far with possibly only one last chance in Kansas, but that is looking increasingly doubtful.

Still, there will be finger-pointing and hand-wringing among grassroot conservatives over Cochran’s victory.  Admittedly, it is sad that he had to reach out to traditionally Democratic voters in order to increase turnout, increase his chances of victory, and then eek out a victory.  But, the strategy worked and might be something that tea party candidates may or should consider in the future.  After all, a candidate is left with nothing but whining and what “could have been” and “should have been” statements without actual power, i.e., winning an election and going to Washington.

With all due respect to Erick Erickson’s take on the election, he sounds like an advertisement for campaign finance reform measures.  One can cite all the money heaped upon Cochran’s reelection efforts by the likes of the US Chamber of Commerce, senatorial PACs and so on.  Money follows positions and sometimes positions are reflected in actual votes.  However, if we subscribe to the “marionette” theory, then this is what the Left constantly harps upon as justification for campaign finance reform- big money buying votes in Congress.  If this is true, then perhaps there is a case for a DISCLOSE Act or even public funding of elections and prohibitions on outside expenditures.  Heck, if this is true let’s just pass the Democratic Party inspired constitutional amendment giving Congress greater power to restrict political speech.

Regarding reaching out to crossover voters in the runoff, isn’t that or shouldn’t that be the goal of the Republican Party in general?  How can the GOP ever hope to eat into the Democratic advantage with African-American voters if they ignore them?  Granted, a large proportion of these same black voters on June 24th will likely not vote for Cochran come November, but even if Cochran can keep 20% of the estimated 55,000 crossover votes (not all black), it would be a small step forward.

Furthermore, there will likely be calls for reforms against the open primary format and allowing only registered Republicans to vote in Republican primaries.  But, that in no way negates or sullies Cochran’s victory.  Chris McDaniel knew the rules coming into both the regular primary and the runoff.  Chris McDaniel operated under the same rules as Thad Cochran.  Chris McDaniel lost by those same rules.

The problem for McDaniels was that he may have underestimated the resolve of Cochran and his backers.  He may have thought that historical trends of lower turnout would spur him to victory.  If he really, really wanted that seat, he should have left nothing to chance.  Outside spending was about even.  More importantly was how that money was spent.  Cochran’s team dedicated a great portion of their efforts to call centers and get-out-the-vote teams.  This was known two weeks ago.  Instead of doing the same, the McDaniels’ side complained when he wasn’t campaigning with Chuck Wollery by his side.  Cochran ran fewer ads this time out, but the ones he did were clearly more effective and put McDaniels on the defense and off balance.  And quite frankly, call centers, fliers, door knocks and get-out-the-vote efforts defines grassroot activism.

In the end, I have no doubts that Chris McDaniel would have made a fine United States Senator and would have represented all citizens of Mississippi with dignity.  In two previous postings, I noted that he was the better candidate with better conservative credentials.  Too bad, like so many other tea party candidates, he wasn’t a better campaigner.