One of the last places anyone would think that the African-American vote would be critical would be a Mississippi Republican primary for U.S. Senate with the state’s history of racial party polarization – yet that’s exactly what happened on Tuesday, June 24.
Longtime U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran openly encouraged African-American voters in the state, which essentially makes up most of the state’s voters in the Democratic Party, to vote for him in the runoff against Tea Party favorite, State Sen. Christ McDaniel, who edged him in the June 3 primary. As cynical as the tactic seemed to be, it worked with Cochran winning nearly 51 percent of the vote this time around.
McDaniel, who has refused to concede the election, and his handlers are crying foul and trying to determine whether to challenge the results of the hotly contested race. It is important to note that Mississippi has an open primary and only voters who had not cast a ballot in the June 3 election could vote in the runoff.
Cochran spent roughly $20,000 in ads in African-American newspapers, radio stations and social media, reported Maynard Institute’s Journal-isms, while NBC News added that influential black ministers prompted their congregations to vote for him.
With blacks, McDaniel’s work as a right-wing talk show host in the mid-2000s and his affiliation with the Tea Party, viewed negatively by many African-Americans because of their alleged treatment of President of Barack Obama, worked against him.
The New York Times reported in a June 13 story that McDaniel in 2004 started hosting a Hattiesburg, Mississippi-based show called “Right Side Radio,” where he charged that women candidates used their sexuality to win elections, made fun of gays and Latinos and lashed out at the hip-hop culture, which is connected mostly with African-Americans.
“The dislike of the tea party motivated folks in the African-America community,” Bishop Ronnie Crudup, a pastor of the New Horizon Church, told NBC News.
“Cochran’s appeal to black voters was simple – ‘We may not agree on much, but at least you can work with me,'” wrote Slate’s Jamelle Bouie. “It succeeded. While turnout increased everywhere on Tuesday, it jumped highest in Cochran’s strongest counties, Jefferson and Humphreys, which also stand as the blackest areas in the state.”
The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Mississippi, reported that Cochran owes part of his victory to Hinds County, which is 61.1 percent black, where he doubled his victory margin from June 3. Turnout in Hinds jumped from 17,406 on June 3 to 24,889 in the runoff, with Cochran’s vote total rising from 11,479, or 66 percent, to 17,927, or 72 percent, the newspaper stated.
But was this nothing more than a desperate move by a longtime political veteran trying to hold on to his U.S. Senate seat for one more term, or is there a real opening for establishment Republicans and African-Americans to work together against who they see as a common enemy – the Tea Party.
Mississippi black politicos wasted no time pushing Cochran this week to become the first Republican co-signer of the a bill that would restore portions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 which was weakened by the U.S. Supreme Court last year. Cochran appeared to be noncommittal so far.
“I think it’s important for everybody to participate. Voting rights has been an issue of great importance in Mississippi,” Cochran said in a statement to Talking Points Memo after the election. “People have really contributed a lot of energy and effort to making sure the political process is open to everyone.”
McDaniel did not help himself through the campaign with blacks, conjuring what some told the New York Times was segregationist rhetoric in speeches around the state.
“Millions in this country feel like strangers in this land – you recognize that, don’t you?” the newspaper said he told an audience in March. “An older America passes away, a new America rises to take its place. We recoil from that culture. It’s foreign to us. It’s offensive to us.”
After the election, McDaniel accused his fellow Republican of race-baiting and that the Republican Primary was not decided by party voters but Democratic outsiders.
“They used everything from the race card to food stamps to saying I would shut down public education,” McDaniel told Fox News talk show host Sean Hannity a day after his defeat, declining earlier to talk with local media about the election. “I’ve fought for this (Republican Party) all my life, but they abandoned us, made fun of us and ridiculed us and brought in 35,000 Democrats to beat us.”
Cochran is expected to handily beat his Democratic challenger, former U.S. Rep. Travis Childers, in the November general election. No doubt, if Cochran, now 76, does run again (however unlikely) his opponents will be keeping his African-American newspapers ads in a safe place to use against him in six years. Unless Cochran show new signs of continuing his outreach to the black voters that helped him secure is likely last election, there’s no reason to believe Cochran’s victory was no more than a shrewd move by a crafty politician rather than some grand compromise between moderates and African-Americans.