The Highly Irregular Mississippi Primary Contest of 2014

Everyone wants to point out what an extraordinary story Thad Cochran's primary victory is, but I am having a hard time understanding why.  First of all, this is not the first time in which an incumbent senator has used seniority and committee membership to win re-election.  Earlier this month, E.J. Dionne wrote an excellent piece entitled 'The Mississippi Paradox', which appeared on Real Clear Politics.  Dionne outlined the contradiction of a senator making the case for resisting federal interference in order to maintain a state's autonomy while at the same time stressing that seniority on committees will bring home the bacon.  This is particularly notable in Mississippi, a state which remains one of the most dependent on federal assistance.  Furthermore, political commentators have noted that Senator Mary Landrieu is essentially doing the same thing in Louisiana as we speak.

Secondly, there is nothing particularly ground-breaking about Cochran's success in winning black support.  While we have come to accept the 'inevitability' of solid black support for the Democratic Party, this is hardly the first time in which southern blacks have supported the more moderate candidate of the two on offer, regardless of traditional or 'common sense' party identification.  During the 1950s and 60s, when the Democratic Party dominated the South, the few black southerners who were able to vote usually picked the more moderate candidate in the Democratic primary, simply because the Republican candidate - assuming one even existed - had no chance of winning the election in November.  It is for this reason that a moderate segregationist such as South Carolina's Olin D. Johnston would benefit from black support and succeed in defeating a more hard-line segregationist such as Strom Thurmond.  Several thousand black Mississippians may have supported Cochran - who benefited from a sudden rush of massive donations and several high-profile Republican endorsements since he lost narrowly to Chris McDaniel in the first round of the contest - because he was a far more palatable alternative to the ultra-conservative Tea Party-backed McDaniel, or they may - understandably - have been sceptical about the chances of the Democratic candidate, Travis Childers, in the November election.

Alternatively, they may simply have preferred Cochran to Childers.  For me, the most enduring image of the campaign will be a photo of Cochran, microphone in hand, standing on the back of a pick-up truck, addressing a crowd at a fish-fry: a marked contrast from the slick, suited and frankly uptight Chris McDaniel, who - and surely this is the real story of the campaign - has refused to concede the race.  Apparently, his team is investigating suspicions of 'voting irregularities'.  Presumably this refers to a twenty-first century conservative understanding of the term 'voting irregularities': namely, that if black people are allowed to vote, then there is a serious risk of them following the highly 'irregular' voting practice of making sensible choices in order to keep the Tea Party out of the US Congress.


James O.