By Robert Schlesinger
The Independent Women’s Voice yesterday released a poll reinforcing what had – with good reason – already become conventional wisdom: that Sen. Thad Cochran held onto the GOP nomination for his seat because African-American voters crossed party lines and saved him.
Cochran’s opponent, state Sen. Chris McDaniel was, of course, the first person to suggest this, thundering against “liberal Democrats” in his concession speech and repeatedly warning that he wants to “be absolutely certain that our Republican primary was won by Republican voters.”
It wasn’t. And guess what: There’s nothing he can do about it.
First, the Independent Women’s Voice poll, which surveyed 500 primary voters and found that:
Among the 75% of survey respondents who said they “always” or “usually” vote Republican, Chris McDaniel defeated Cochran 52%-41%, with 7% refusing to say for whom they voted. Among those who said they “always” vote Republican, McDaniel defeated Cochran 59%-37%; among those who said they “usually” vote Republican, the vote was split at 46%-46%.
So no, the primary wasn’t won by “Republican voters.” But we already knew that. Several media outlets have made this point, including Alec MacGillis at The New Republic:
The evidence is in the maps and numbers. Turnout was up statewide compared with the June 3 primary in which McDaniel narrowly beat Cochran, but fell just shy of the 50 percent share necessary to avoid a runoff. But the spike in turnout tended to be the greatest in the state’s heavily black counties, as this graph by election-data guru Charles Franklin shows. As the New York Times's Nate Cohn notes, the county with the largest share of black voters in the entire country, tiny Jefferson County, saw its turnout jump 91 percent. In larger Hinds County, which Cochran won by fewer than 6,000 votes on June 3, turnout jumped so much that he won it by nearly 11,000 votes yesterday. As the NBC First Read crew put it, “In a race that Cochran won by 6,000 votes, that’s pretty much your ballgame there.”
So those dastardly liberal Democrats did indeed swing the election. What’s McDaniel going to do about it? His campaign issued a statement yesterday promising that his “team will look into the irregularities [in the election] to determine whether a challenge is warranted.” Spoiler alert: They won’t. There’s nothing to be gained from it. As Rick Hasen wrote in the Election Law Blog yesterday:
So the idea that the courts are going to come in and subtract an uncertain number of “illegal” Democratic votes cast presumably for Cochran seems most unlikely. The reason to bring such a suit is to delegitimize Cochran’s win, and to keep McDaniel’s supporters fired up with incendiary talk of a “stolen” election. That might be good for McDaniel to keep his supporters happy, but it will win him no friends in the Republican establishment if he wants to run for something else going forward. Indeed, given Cochran’s fragility I would be very surprised to see him serve out another full 6 year term, so there may be an opportunity for U.S. Senator McDaniel not to far from now, if he doesn’t burn too many bridges.
Couldn’t keeping his supporters stoked be a good idea in case McDaniel wants to run a write-in campaign against the Republican In Name Only Cochran? No – he can’t run that way. And even a racially insensitive “lost cause” romanticist like McDaniel must understand the poor optics of trying to make “voting irregularities” synonymous with “black people voting.”
And what of the broader tea party movement? As my colleague Teresa Welsh noted last night, former half-term Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and tea party types are making noises about leaving the GOP. This is big talk which will amount to nothing for a very practical reason: The national tea party types making this noise don’t have the wherewithal to pull it off.
As Molly Ball wrote in The Atlantic in a devastating and insightful take-down of the “Tea Party industrial complex,” as she terms it:
If there's any segment of the GOP that ought to have egg on its face, it's national Tea Party groups and figureheads. Dave Brat, the obscure college professor who took out Cantor, won largely without the help of these groups. Meanwhile, when they were the most heavily involved, in races that should have been favorable to them, they couldn't close the deal. The organizations claiming to speak for the Tea Party nationally do not appear to be plugged into the real grassroots or have the ability to mobilize effectively in support of the candidates they favor.
As the Washington Post has reported, many of these national groups are little more than fundraising vehicles anyway, more intent on mining tea party wallets than marshaling a grassroots movement. Even if national conservatives were to split off and somehow kept the money train rolling for a few months until the next election, it would derail pretty quickly when their efforts as a new party proved even more futile than their misadventures in this year’s GOP primaries.