The Mississippi Republican U.S. Senate primary has reached depths of dirt, deceit and that go beyond anything in modern state political history – and as a young man I covered the 1983 Mississippi governor’s race between Bill Allain, Leon Bramlett and Charles Evers.
Some 30 years after the final two weeks of that race were rocked by allegations against Allain that most observers believed would torpedo his chances of being elected governor, Allain went on to win 74 of the state’s 82 counties.
In the current Senate primary, the safety and dignity of a vulnerable dementia patient has been determined to be expendable if it moves the political needle. What happened to Rose Clayton Cochran was despicable, deplorable and disgusting.
But at the end of the day, there are certain rules that apply to politics regardless the candidates and regardless the outrageous nature of charges and countercharges in heated campaigns.
First, incumbency and name identification are powerful allies. In this race, ultra-conservative groups with national agendas have sought to make incumbency a dirty word.
Despite the money pumped into Mississippi by “astroturf” groups and super PACs, U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran goes into the June 3 primary with incumbency and name identification solidly on his side.
Second, there’s the matter of urgency. On this count, state Sen. Chris McDaniel is clearly ahead.
There are no small numbers of Cochran supporters who’ve convinced themselves that Cochran’s name ID and incumbency guarantees not only a victory over McDaniel, but a more than 20 percentage point victory like that earned Tuesday by Kentucky U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell over Tea Party-backed challenger.
Third, there’s turnout and the strength of the “GOTV” or organized get-out-the-vote efforts. As evidenced by the current slate of statewide elected officials in Mississippi, the Republican Party in Mississippi has essentially owned this state.
The vaunted “72-hour plan” voter mobilization efforts – where phone calls are made inquiring if likely supporters have indeed voted, where doors get knocked on multiple times, where voter registration is verified and where volunteers are accountable to votes in the way that salesmen are accountable for sales – has long been the stuff of Republican success in Mississippi.
But this is a Republican primary. There will be virtually no local races on the ballot statewide. In only one congressional district – the 4th District – is there another contested Republican primary and it’s a hot one between incumbent U.S. Rep. Steven Palazzo and former U.S. Rep. Gene Taylor.
The mantle of incumbency gives Cochran serious advantages. There are few towns, counties, regions, organizations or individuals that Cochran hasn’t helped during a long and productive career. More people know him simply as “Thad” than as Sen. Cochran.
But generating and harnessing intensity is the province of youth, of outsiders, and of underdogs. That’s McDaniel’s hole card.
The management and motivation of turnout will decide this race – as it decides most races – nothing more, nothing less.
Sid Salter is a syndicated columnist. He is the chief spokesman for Mississippi State University. Contact him at (601) 507-8004 or firstname.lastname@example.org.