Longtime Senator Thad Cochran beat Chris McDaniel by just over 6,000 votes in the GOP runoff election yesterday in Mississippi. He did so by convincing black Democrats to vote for him and increasing voter turnout overall — in the 24 Mississippi counties with a majority black population, turnout was up almost 40 percent.
In some counties, that trend was even more stark. Jefferson County saw turnout increase by 92 percent, according to Nate Cohn at The New York Times. African-Americans make up over 80 percent of the voting population in Jefferson.
Predicting an increase in Democratic voters, Tea Party organizations deployed poll watchers yesterday to intimidate black voters. In response, the NAACP dispatched its own poll watchers to look for intimidation and other problems. No monitor on either side reported any illegal activity.
Some Tea Partiers will probably always say that Cochran bought votes, however. McDaniel supporter Sue Barnett suggested at a rally last weekend that "Cochran's campaign had hired a community organizer to pay blacks to show up at the polls on Tuesday." In his concession speech, McDaniel didn't hide his anger — he said, "There is something a bit strange, there is something a bit unusual about a Republican primary that's decided by liberal Democrats. So much for principles."
Ultimately, Democrats realized that the likelihood of sending a Democratic senator to Washington from Mississippi was slim, so they supported the lesser of two Republican evils. Roger Smith, a black Democrat who organized for Cochran, told the Times:
I don't know too much about McDaniel other than what McDaniel's saying: that he's Tea Party, he's against Obama, he don't like black people. You're going to get one of the white guys in there. You got to make a choice.
Cochran, 76, has been a senator since 1978. He wasn't the only incumbent in Congress to face a much younger challenger yesterday — Rep. Charlie Rangel is still fighting to keep his seat in the New York Democratic primary.
[Image via AP]