The $12.1 million (and counting) Republican U.S. Senate primary in Mississippi is one of the more intriguing political exercises in my more than three decades of writing about politics in this state – and in no state is that concept better understood than in Alabama.
Yellowhammernews.com political writer Cliff Sims of Birmingham, Alabama, summed it up as follows on Wednesday: “No state gains more than Alabama if Republicans take over the U.S. Senate in November, regardless of how things play out in Mississippi. But you can be assured that there are a lot of economic developers around the state salivating at the possibility of a (U.S. Sen. Richard) Shelby-led Appropriations Committee.”
Mississippi Republicans are literally almost evenly split in their loyalties to incumbent U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran and challenger state Sen. Chris McDaniel – as long as one sets aside the 4,789 Thomas Carey voters who rejected both of the leading contenders. McDaniel led with 49.46 percent of the vote to 49.02 percent for Cochran and 1.53 percent for Carey.
The total votes separating McDaniel and Cochran was 1,356 with Cochran outpolling McDaniel in 52 of the state’s 82 counties. In 23 counties, Cochran and McDaniel were within 100 votes of each other. What is more interesting is what an analysis of voter intensity reveals.
The Stennis Institute of Government at MSU looked at the turnout in counties carried by the respective candidates. In short, the intensity of McDaniel’s support in his home Pine Belt region counties (Smith, Jasper, Clarke, Jones, Wayne, Marion, Lamar, Perry, and Greene, among others) and the margins of McDaniel’s wins in Jones, DeSoto and Pearl River counties offer the McDaniel camp a solid base in the runoff.
McDaniel actually has room for growth in DeSoto and other key counties despite a higher than expected turnout statewide. But Cochran also has room for growth in the vast majority of rural counties he carried and Madison County, which has a local runoff election. Cochran also has opportunity to pad his numbers in Lauderdale and Lowndes counties.
Clearly, McDaniel leads the primary with momentum. But the second primary is a race between two candidates in Cochran and McDaniel whose support was within .44 percent of each other. In an extremely close race, momentum is relative. This race is still about the success of a grassroots get-out-the-vote (GOTV) effort.
If the GOP retakes control of the U.S. Senate, Cochran will become chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. Shelby is the likely new chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, something the uber-rich on Wall Street fear.
If Cochran is defeated, Shelby is likely to become chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, the panel that plays a leading role in deciding where the government spends its money. Alabama’s other Republican senator, U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions, would be the likely chairman of the Senate Budget Committee which greatly influences government spending levels. That would give Alabama a huge advantage in not only government spending in their state, but in private economic development as well.
So for Mississippians – political philosophies aside – the practical stakes of the GOP Senate second primary remains whether state voters choose to retain the invaluable seniority they have already given Cochran to give our state powerful influence in the federal spending process or voters choose to cede that influence to our neighbors and direct economic development competitors in Alabama.
Sid Salter is a syndicated columnist. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or(601) 507-8004. He is the chief spokesman for Mississippi State University.