Almost 50 years after the 1965 Voting Rights Act enfranchised thousands of black voters in Mississippi and elsewhere in the South, it’s increasingly evident that the Democratic voting bloc can become a game-changer in tight Southern senatorial races of both major parties.
As we have already seen, the African-American Democratic bloc in Mississippi – normally non-crucial in national elections – played a surprise role in helping veteran Republican Sen. Thad Cochran turn back a challenge from a far-right Tea Party champion.
While that black Democratic bloc here likely won’t make Democratic senatorial Travis Childers a serious threat to Cochran in November, black Democrats elsewhere in the South could make a key difference.
Nate Cohn, the numbers-crunching New York Times correspondent, has figured that in at least three Southern states – Georgia, Louisiana and North Carolina – black Democrats could tip the balance for Democratic candidates to win, and keep Democratic control of the U.S. Senate.
What’s interesting about the quirky Mississippi Republican Senate primary, challenger state Sen. Chris McDaniel keeps referring to the June 24 surge of black support for Cochran as “liberal” Democrats, rather than African-Americans, or blacks. Does he do that to counteract the racist taint he has from hobnobbing with neo-Confederate groups and extremist comments he has made on his talk radio show?
Almost a month since Cochran was declared the winner of the June 24 runoff, McDaniel hasn’t conceded and asserts he is gathering evidence of voting irregularities preparatory to filing a formal election challenge. No election authority has supported his claims thus far and some experts have accused McDaniel of staging a charade to raise money to pay off his campaign debt.
In Washington last week New York Democratic Sen. Charles E. Schumer cited the Cochran-McDaniel runoff primary as an example of why partisan primaries should be removed from the election system to reduce polarization plaguing congressional politics. Schumer advocated what he called a “top two” voting model resembling California’s primary system, or, he added, the “open primary” system Louisiana has used since 1975. Such a system, Schumer contended would prevent a hard-right or hard-left candidate from getting into office with support of “a sliver” of the electorate.
Meanwhile Mississippi’s unprecedented Senate Republican race that pitted Cochran, the 76-year-old elder statesman, against McDaniel, a 41-year-old slick-talking politician, remains on the national media radar. If not for sordid episodes of Tea Party zealots invading the privacy of a dementia ward to photograph Cochran’s bed-ridden wife and the suicide of a somewhat prominent lawyer who was a Tea Party leader, it would be labeled political comedy.
And then there’s the black Democratic vote in Mississippi as part of the Republican fiasco seen in an entirely new light.
Could the bloc vote of Mississippi black Democrats become a political bargaining tool? If so, it would become the biggest surprise yet to emerge from the already surprising split in the state’s GOP ranks between the establishment wing and the radical Tea Party wing.
In the short run, there is one thing the black Democrats could ask of Cochran for saving his political life. That is for him to cut out the rant about scuttling Obamacare, something he did in the June 24 runoff to assuage the Tea Party crowd. Even more, Thad could behind the scenes lobby state Republican officialdom that solidly supported him (Phil Bryant, et al) to make some accommodation with Democratic legislators seeking Medicaid expansion under the medical reform act.
We can’t wait to see how it all turns out.
Syndicated columnist Bill Minor has covered Mississippi politics since 1947. Contact him through Ed Inman at email@example.com.