Cochran Stumbles, Ernst Cruises (For a Bruising?)

Yesterday’s eight primaries didn’t produce a lot of drama, but where it occurred it was pretty intense. As you may have heard by now, in Mississippi Chris McDaniel and Thad Cochran managed to split 98.4 percent of the vote in a way that produced a runoff (there are still some precincts out, but McDaniel leads Cochran by 2128 votes with the random third candidate pulling 4749). When this outcome became apparent late last night, Cochran declined to address his well-groomed troops, while McDaniels all but claimed victory (for himself and for God). Such is the usual trajectory of runoffs when long-time incumbents blow leads and money advantages against ideological challengers whose supporters are more likely to show up three weeks later.

For what it’s worth, McDaniel’s performance was no fluke. Turnout–thought to be the key to Cochran’s survival–was actually ahead of 2012 primary levels. The incumbent hit or exceeded his markers in the Delta and the Jackson area, and also did better than expected in NE Mississippi. But McDaniel ran up the score in his native SE MS, trounced Cochran in bellwether DeSoto County, and won more votes than expected in the land of coastal military bases.

The senatorial drama-that-did-not-happen was in Iowa, where hybrid Establishment-Tea Party candidate Joni Ernst not only cleared the 35% threshold necessary to win without a state convention, but took a solid 56% majority over four opponents. One-time front-runner Mark Jacobs finished third behind social conservative stalwart Sam Clovis. But Ernst may have really overdone the “I’m more conservative than everybody” routine, and could pay a price in the general election.

You can read my take as of midnight on both races and the evolving Senate landscape over at TPMCafe. I don’t know how many times I’ll have to point to evidence undermining the Year of the Republican Establishment narrative, but it’s really getting threadbare now. And you can probably add Mississippi to the list of states where Republicans may have to play defense in a Senate race this fall.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.