As I noted earlier, the grand symbolic moment of the Mississippi GOP Senate primary occurred late last night, when Sen. Thad Cochran declined to address his “victory rally” even though he appeared headed for a runoff, and in fact, had some hope of winding up finishing first (though not above 50%). It was a pretty sharp contrast to Chris McDaniel’s raucous and triumphalist speech to his wildly cheering troops.

Today there’s some question as to whether Cochran might just throw in the towel despite having come within a few thousand votes of Total Victory. But if that doesn’t happen, his wealthy backers have to decide how much money to throw into a runoff campaign he’s not very well positioned to win. Politico‘s Alexander Burns is all over this classic wheels-inside-wheels story:

As the race looked increasingly set for a runoff vote later this month, Cochran’s most loyal financial backers quickly reaffirmed their support for the senator. Left unsaid was how much money they might continue to pump into the race and whether they believed Cochran and his operation can sustain a three-week sprint to the next ballot.

American Crossroads, the powerful GOP outside-spending group, said Wednesday morning that it would not spend money in the Cochran-McDaniel race. Though Crossroads was not involved in the Mississippi primary prior to this week, the definitive statement that the group will not engage deprives national Republicans of a possible funding stream for Cochran’s effort….

Henry Barbour, the Republican National Committee member who leads the top super PAC supporting Cochran, said his group would continue to go “all out” in the race.
“We will go all out for Mississippi’s interests as opposed to McDaniel and his out-of-state funders who ‘won’t do anything’ for us,” Barbour said in an email, alluding to comments McDaniel made earlier this month pledging to eschew federal perks for Mississippi.

NRSC executive director Rob Collins said in a statement that the committee will “continue to fully support Thad Cochran.” And the heavy-spending U.S. Chamber of Commerce signaled a similar commitment; one of its top political officials, Rob Engstrom, tweeted that the business lobby will “stand by Senator Cochran.”

There’s a “but” here, of course:

The looming question, however, is how much money these groups intend to throw at a race that many in Washington resent having been forced to spend money in at all. Several top party strategists said the process of assessing Cochran’s viability as a runoff candidate is underway.

Needless to say, McDaniel’s backers have no such qualms about looking under the sofa cushions for more cash for their candidate.

Burns goes on to note that part of the Establishment “assessment” is whether they really want to dig deep to go medieval on McDaniel–and virtually everyone thinks that’s the only way for Cochran to have a prayer in a runoff–and then have to spend a lot more rehabilitating the fiery conservative for a general election campaign against Travis Childers that’s not a gimme.

You get the feeling that behind all the bluster some of Cochran’s old buddies will quietly suggest he’s too much a gentleman to put up with the indignities of a savage runoff campaign, and should begin the pleasant process of sorting through his corporate board and “consulting” options. Even at Cochran’s age, 36 years of appropriations experience is a highly bankable commodity. And if he persists with a runoff campaign, he might be forced into promising he’ll actually live in Mississippi. So for Cochran as well as for his backers, the decision could be one that revolves around the folly of throwing good money after bad.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.