WASHINGTON, D.C. - Can a tea party candidate knock off a big name again?
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor went down in a surprise defeat earlier this month in Virginia. Tuesday it might be Sen. Thad Cochran's turn in a run-off in Mississippi -- although it would be much less of a surprise. Cochran, first elected to Congress in 1972, came up 1,500 votes short in the June 3 GOP primary against Chris McDaniel. Neither candidate earned 50 percent of the vote.
The question before voters: Is a conservative, establishment Republican like Cochran conservative enough?
The answer won’t say much about the tea party movement’s nationwide sway, and it won’t signal a significant change in the Senate, either. The winner seems certain to beat Democrat Travis Childers in the Nov. 4 general election. So, in the end, a conservative will be sitting in that Senate seat no matter who wins Tuesday.
A key battleground for Cochran is populous DeSoto County, where McDaniel had a 27-point margin of victory in the primary. DeSoto County Republican Party chairman Kevin Blackwell noted in the aftermath that Cochran’s camp had “gained a renewed appreciation” for the importance of the county.
Making a significant dent in that percentage Tuesday could mean Cochran could live to fight another day. If not, the tea party-backed challenger who was born the year Cochran, 76, was first elected to Congress has an excellent chance of surviving for the general election.
If absentee voting is any indication, interest hasn’t waned in DeSoto. The county reported 768 absentee ballots - more than was cast in the primary.
There was no clear sign early Tuesday as to how the voting will end up.
Richard Crowson, who stopped at a Southhaven Starbucks on his way to vote, said, “I'm a conservative and I'm voting for Cochran because even though his record is not perfect he has worked hard for Mississippi. … I just don't know enough about Chris McDaniel to vote for him and I think that Cochran deserves another shot."
But a few tables away, Tim Crum had different plans. "As soon as I leave here I am going to cast my vote for Chris McDaniel because I believe in term limits and it is time for a change, and I just don't think Cochran is physically and mentally up for the job anymore."
Retiree Roger Shelton, who voted by absentee ballot, said he had already cast his vote for McDaniel. "We simply need a change. It is long overdue."
(Ron Maxey is a reporter at the Memphis Commercial Appeal.)
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