Off-year federal elections – those in non-presidential election years – rarely draw high turnouts. Yet Mississippi has a hugely important decision to make in Tuesday’s primary election for the U.S. Senate, and maximum participation is vital for the outcome to reflect the people’s will.
Voters in the Republican primary will choose between Sen. Thad Cochran, a 36-year Senate veteran who has risen to the top tier of the Republican leadership ranks and has served the state well. Cochran is challenged by state Sen. Chris McDaniel of Ellisville, who believes that Cochran’s efforts to funnel federal dollars to Mississippi military, education and local infrastructure projects have been misplaced and proposes to blunt that and other federal spending.
Cochran’s mastery of the existing system and his deal-making abilities contrast starkly with McDaniel’s promise to upend the system as it exists, even if Mississippi loses some benefits in the process. That, along with the distinctly different personalities of the two – Cochran a low-key deflector of attention, McDaniel an assertively high-profile figure – offer voters one of the clearest choices in substance and style of any Republican primary in modern state history.
Whether the ugliness of the campaign in recent weeks will stimulate or depress voter turnout remains to be seen, but supporters of either candidate can assume nothing on the eve of this nationally pivotal election. The few pre-election polls that have been made public indicate the race could go either way.
Whoever wins the GOP primary won’t be home free. Waiting in the wings will be Travis Childers, the former 1st District congressman and likely winner of Tuesday’s much lower-profile Democratic senatorial primary who is poised to run a serious campaign against the Republican nominee. As his unexpected victory in the 2008 1st District special and regular elections demonstrated, Childers is capable of winning against the odds – especially when the GOP opposition is embittered and fragmented, as it was that year and will be this time around.
Mississippi will be in the national spotlight Tuesday. The results of the Senate race will be of interest around the nation as a test of the strength of the Tea Party’s on-the-ground efforts and candidates funded by national super PACs sympathetic to its aims against a venerable senator with a long record of service.
Voters who choose not to be a part of Tuesday’s electoral event will be opting out of one of Mississippi’s most signficant electoral decisions of the new century.