If, as Chris McDaniel and the Tea Party crowd claims, black Democrats crossed over party lines in the June 24 runoff to pull Thad Cochran’s chestnuts out of the fire, they had good reason to do it.
No new-found affection for Cochran came into play. It was blacks’ fear of McDaniel and the extremism he represented. Perhaps African-Americans dispelled the popular notion of whites that black voters were too politically unsophisticated to detect a McDaniel victory would symbolize a step backward to days of Jim Crow.
To their credit, black crossovers perceived the scent of Klanism and Confederate nostalgia coming from the McDaniel camp. However, in fairness to Cochran’s congressional career, blacks had some positive reasons to vote for him. After all, there was no Democrat in the race. Many have forgotten that Thad, especially in his earlier years, often was regarded as a Republican moderate for his support of funding for black colleges and public housing that benefited low-income black families.
It’s true that as the Senate has become more rigidly split along party lines, Cochran has tended not to buck the increasingly conservative Senate Republican leadership.
However, here in Mississippi, where politicians in the past (Theodore Bilbo quickly comes to mind) stayed in office by appealing only to white voters, it is a relief to see Thad reach out to black voters. Certainly Republicans nationally could learn by Cochran’s example. Of course, it remains to be seen whether Cochran will repay his debt to blacks for pulling him across the finish line. To begin with, Thad could use his influence to get Republican Gov. Phil Bryant to drop his opposition to expanding Medicaid coverage under so-called Obamacare, a move that could extend health care coverage to some 300,000 working poor, many of them black.
Now that the Tea Party has taken a beating in its wild (I do mean wild) attempt to take down the state’s senior U.S. senator by attacking him from the right, the question is: Was this their last stand? Looking back to events that transpired in this unprecedented Republican primary, there’s reason to believe the Tea Party is more a cult than a new political faction. How else than by indoctrination of its followers could the Tea Party brain trust have sent people into outrageous photo caper to get an image of Cochran’s mentally ill wife hospitalized at a private institution. Or sent several faithful into a darkened courthouse at 1 o’clock in the morning on the pretense they were checking on vote counting?
Chris McDaniel, the Tea Party standard-bearer was an upstart from Mississippi’s piney woods with no legislative credits from his six years in the state Senate. But he was also known to have connections to the state’s dark Confederate past. When confronted about being selected to keynote a big Sons of Confederate Veterans gathering in Jones County, McDaniel shrugged it off as of no significance.
Try telling that to Mississippi’s black residents, who represent 37 percent of the state’s population. Robert P. Wise, a white Jackson attorney said he was proud of Cochran’s win with multiracial support, saying “it was a sign the state has come a long way toward inclusion and diversity.”
Despite its bitterness, you might well chalk up the Republican senatorial primary as a rare piece of Mississippi political history.
Syndicated columnist Bill Minor has covered Mississippi politics since 1947. Contact him through Ed Inman at email@example.com.