June 23--JACKSON -- The twists and turns that have defined the Republican primary for U.S. Senate are expected to come to an end when voters go the polls Tuesday to decide between six-term incumbent Thad Cochran and state Sen. Chris McDaniel, a Tea Party favorite.
As the runoff election nears its conclusion, both candidates were busy criss-crossing the state. McDaniel spent much of the weekend at events in Northeast Mississippi.
Arizona Sen. John McCain will be on the Gulf Coast and in Jackson during the final days campaigning for the incumbent. Apparently, the two Senate colleagues have resolved any differences they had when Cochran famously said in 2008 the thought of McCain as president "sends a cold chill down my spine."
Former Southern Mississippi quarterback and Green Bay Packers great Brett Favre, and most of the state's Republican elected leadership also are campaigning for the 76-year-old Cochran.
Most of McDaniel's support from elected Republicans is coming from a handful of state legislators, and out-of-state politicians, such as former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who also was McCain's nominee for vice president in 2008.
Former Gov. Haley Barbour, who has helped form a political action committee in support of Cochran, said it was interesting to him that McDaniel's support was from out-of-state groups.
"The people who care about and love Mississippi and understand and want to focus on its interests and future -- they are all for Cochran," said Barbour who spent Friday calling media to tout Cochran and explaining why he thinks the incumbent will win on Tuesday.
McDaniel, a second-term state senator, stunned many by capturing about 1,400 more votes than Cochran did in the June 3 first primary. But McDaniel was 3,436 votes short of the majority needed to avoid a runoff. Little-known Thomas Carey of Hernando received 4,854 votes to force a runoff between Cochran and McDaniel.
Barbour remained insistent Friday that the runoff will result in more people going to the polls than the June 3 turnout of 318,902, which represented a record vote for a Republican primary in Mississippi. It would be a rarity for more people to return to the polls for the runoff.
But the former governor said turnout would be up because more people now are concerned about McDaniel's statements that the federal government should not be helping to fund education, saying that was a local and state funding issue, and people are concerned about what could happen to military bases and defense-related businesses in the state should Cochran be defeated.
Cochran is in line to chair the Appropriations Committee should the Republicans gain control of the Senate in November. Barbour downplayed efforts by his political action committee and other groups to try to recruit Democrats, specifically African-Americans, to cross over and vote for Cochran in the Republican runoff Tuesday.
He predicted some African-Americans, especially those concerned about public education in Mississippi, would. Other Cochran supporters have not tried to deny the fact that are trying to attract African-Americans to vote for Cochran.
State Sen. Melanie Sojourner of Natchez, who is managing McDaniel's campaign, said in an email Friday the actions of Cochran's supporters indicates they are panicking.
"The Republican establishment is panicking, which only means one thing -- they know that Chris is poised to win this race," she wrote. She added, "The insider politicians in Washington are finally coming to realize what you and I have known all along -- Mississippians are ready to elect Chris McDaniel to be our next U.S. senator."
McDaniel has accused Cochran of supporting policies that have contributed to the nation's debt.
According to various sources, more than $13 million has been spent by the candidates and various third-party groups. Cochran has far outspent McDaniel in terms of money raised by his campaign. But various Tea Party-related national groups have spent funds in support of McDaniel or in opposition to Cochran.
Various polls indicate the election is close with most observers admitting it is difficult to gauge the runoff -- especially since the state has never had such a hotly contested runoff on the Republican side.
The polls will be open from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m.
The winner will face Democratic nominee Travis Childers of Booneville in the November general election.
(c)2014 the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal (Tupelo, Miss.)
Visit the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal (Tupelo, Miss.) at www.nems360.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services
Original headline: Hotly contested runoff near end
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