Back in Washington, Cochran’s most important allies resolved to muffle their anxiety and stick with him for another three weeks. The Chamber of Commerce polled the race, concluded the senator had a difficult but viable path to victory; the group began brainstorming inventive ways to make a splash in the state, culminating with a sensational commercial starring NFL legend Brett Favre. National Republican Senatorial Committee political director Ward Baker, confronted with Beltway pessimism about Cochran’s chances, repeatedly told Republicans in D.C.: “We don’t leave our people on the field.”
Within a week, a powerful operation had swung into motion to save the 76-year-old legislator. Rather than making peace with his firebrand challenger, state and national Republicans redoubled their efforts to tear down Chris McDaniel, whom they considered a political lightweight taking advantage of a virulently anti-Washington mood. In interviews on the day and night of the runoff vote, strategists and party leaders described the campaign as a near-perfect turnaround – considering the slimness of Cochran’s victory, it had to be.
By the time the second round of balloting rolled around on June 24, a collection of groups that might be dubbed the Emergency Committee for Mississippi had spent millions on new television ads, knocked on tens of thousands of doors and reached out to voters – including African-Americans and Democrats – who had likely never voted before in a GOP primary.
Nate Cohn writes at The New York Times:
Turnout hadn’t increased in a Senate runoff primary election in 30 years until Tuesday night, when a momentous surge of voters allowed Senator Thad Cochran to defeat Chris McDaniel, a Tea Party-backed state senator, in Mississippi’s Republican Senate runoff.Sam R. Hall writes at The Clarion-Ledger:
Overall turnout has surpassed that from the initial primary by 14 percent, or 45,465 votes, so far. In that contest, Mr. McDaniel edged Mr. Cochran but fell short of the 50 percent necessary to avoid a runoff. Turnout increased by 15.9 percent in the counties that reported 100 percent of their precincts.
The increase in turnout was generally to the benefit of Mr. Cochran. Turnout increased by 34 percent in the counties where Mr. Cochran was strongest and won at least 62 percent of the vote. But turnout also increased by 18 percent in counties where Mr. McDaniel was strong.
In the primary, Cochran and his supporters made the race as much about McDaniel as anything. They tried to paint McDaniel as an extremist with questionable background who would be a loose cannon in the general election and — if elected — in Washington. They attacked him on the nursing home scandal, called him a trial lawyer and sent clips of his old radio show to voters in the form of a talking card.
In the runoff, the campaign changed their message. They started talking about what Cochran had done for Mississippi. They embraced his legacy of bringing billions of dollars to the state and helping to build schools, roads, bridges, research facilities and countless other projects.
In other words, instead of giving the voters someone to vote against, Cochran gave them someone to vote for.James Hohmann writes at Politico:
Two-term Rep. James Lankford crushed T.W. Shannon — the former speaker of the state House who was backed by tea party hero Ted Cruz — and avoided a runoff in the special election to succeed the retiring Tom Coburn.
Before being elected to the House in 2010, the 46-year-old Lankford ran the biggest Baptist summer camp in the state. This helped him build an extensive network among the religious right, and they mobilized for him across the state.
Shannon is both an African-American and a member of the Chickasaw Nation, whose gambling interests make it a major, deep-pocketed player in Oklahoma politics. But the Baptists were far more energized than the tribes, and Lankford far outperformed polls that showed him with a slight lead but below the majority needed to avoid a runoff.
Lankford faces no credible Democratic opposition in the fall.Karl Rove writes:
Tuesday's outcomes suggest local tea party groups have more influence than the national groups purporting to speak for them. A network of Mississippi tea party groups made Mr. McDaniel competitive. In Oklahoma, national groups like Club for Growth, Senate Conservative Fund and FreedomWorks could spend and endorse all they wanted, yet local tea party support for Mr. Lankford blunted these inside-the-Beltway groups' impact in the Sooner State.
This has happened a lot this year. Republican incumbents in Kentucky, South Carolina and Texas, and GOP Senate candidates in Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Montana, North Carolina, South Dakota and West Virginia all avoided or vanquished tea party challengers by keeping close to their state's politics and offering a message that grabbed a significant slice of local tea party support.
Eight of nine GOP House members targeted by the Club for Growth escaped serious opposition and the one who did face serious opposition won 2 to 1. On the flip side, every national tea party group sat out the June 10 Virginia Seventh Congressional District primary. Local tea party groups provided the volunteers and enthusiasm that propelled David Brat to his stunning victory over House Majority Leader Eric Cantor.