Previewing Mississippi’s GOP Senate Run-off

If tea party candidate Chris McDaniel wins big in Tuesday’s Mississippi Republican Senate run-off election, it will likely have a lot to do with support from cultural conservatives and evangelical voters. That makes Mississippi something of special case in 2014.

As the American Communities Project has noted, counties with large evangelical populations, Evangelical Hubs in the ACP, have not been good territory for the tea party in 2014. But they were very good to Mr. McDaniel in the June 3 primary as he pushed incumbent Sen. Thad Cochran to a run-off. Mr. McDaniel won 56% of the vote coming out of those 24 Mississippi counties that day.

What was the difference for Mr. McDaniel? A big one is important parts of the social conservative apparatus are behind him. The Family Research Council has endorsed him and in a Republican primary, or run-off, that is no small thing.

The state’s Evangelical Hub counties are in light purple on the map below.

Mississippi’s run-off on Tuesday represents something different for 2014, a unified opposition Republican candidate. Up to now there hasn’t been a Republican senate primary with only two legitimate candidates and a somewhat unified tea party/social conservative option for voters.

The FRC backed candidate Mark Harris is North Carolina’s senate race, but the tea party candidate was Greg Brannon and both lost to state Rep. Thom Tillis. In Georgia the GOP field was vast and divided the electorate and in Kentucky there was only candidate opposing Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, but the FRC didn’t endorse anyone.

Yes, the FRC endorsement came late for Mr. McDaniel and it might be seen a bandwagon endorsement. But it still may have been crucial to pushing him over the top. The race was remarkably close, with less than 2,000 votes separating the two candidates. And if a few thousand of those votes didn’t turnout for one candidate or the other we might not be having a runoff in Mississippi – one of the candidates might have reached the 50% threshold.

As Mr. Cochran struggles to hold onto his seat, he is reportedly trying to tap into the African-American vote in the state.  That may be a somewhat surprising move for a Republican, particularly one locked in a primary fight considering how poorly Republicans tend to do with African Americans, but it may make a certain amount of sense for Mr. Cochran.

There is a big African American population in the state – it makes up 37% of the state’s total population – and Mr. Cochran did well in counties with large African American populations, called the African American South in the ACP, in the June 3 primary. He won 36 of the 48 African American South counties in the primary and captured more than 50% of their vote (that’s even though Mr. McDaniel got his biggest margin of victory, more than 9,000 votes, in Jones County, an African American South county he calls home).

The ACP Break Down of the June 3rd Mississippi GOP Senate Primary Vote

County Type

Cochran %

McDaniel %

Vote Difference

Evangelical Hubs Evangelical Hubs

42.7

55.6

+7,467 McDaniel
African American South African American South

50.2

48.8

+1,821 Cochran
Exurbs Exurbs

44.7

53.6

+5,019 McDaniel
Military Posts Military Posts

51.7

44.6

+3,184 Cochran
College Towns College Towns

65.4

33.8

+2,680 Cochran
Urban Suburbs Urban Suburbs

61.1

38.1

+3,415 Cochran

If Mr. Cochran can somehow get those voters to the polls for him on Tuesday they could make a difference – remember African Americans make-up a huge, largely-untapped base of voters for Republicans.

But the above chart shows a big point of concern for Mr. Cochran on Tuesday. That strong vote out of those Evangelical Hubs is big plus for Mr. McDaniel because the social conservative voters in those places are heavily Republican and they tend to turn out on for elections. Turnout is important in any election, but its crucial in something where turnout tends to very low, like a primary run-off.

If Mr. McDaniel can get the Evangelical Hubs to show anywhere the levels of turnout and support they showed in the June 3 primary, he will be very difficult to beat.

Perhaps more important, if someone can repeat Mr. McDaniel’s trick of winning over evangelicals, the Republican Party establishment will have a close look at something could cause real problems for it in the months and years ahead – a candidate that unites the tea party and social conservative wings of the party.

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