One of the advantages of the GOP in the 2014 Senate elections is that they have fewer vulnerable seats to defend. Until now, their only vulnerable Republican spots were in Georgia, where there is a vacancy, and Kentucky, where Sen. Mitch McConnell faces a spirited challenge from Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes.
But thanks to the Republican Party’s “Mississippi Mess,” the Democrats now have another possible pickup in a Southern red state.
The GOP got the worst of all options, as Tea Party challenger State Sen. Chris McDaniel will now head to a bruising runoff with longtime moderate GOP Sen. Thad Cochran that will take place later this month, because neither received a majority, thanks to a third candidate.
The runoff will violate the military voting act, as it will not have the requisite number of days to get the ballots to the men and women in uniform overseas. But even if it didn’t it will cause all kinds of headaches for the Republican Party, because this looks like Indiana 2012 all over again.
To recap what happened two years ago, Sen. Dick Lugar seemed to be a lock for another term. He faced Rep. Joe Donnelly, who was only running because he was drawn out of his district, and had nothing to lose.
But State Treasurer Richard Mourdock jumped on the Tea Party bandwagon, bashed Sen. Lugar, and upset him in the GOP primary. Thanks to comments like rape being a something intended by God, Donnelly was able to win easily in a state that Mitt Romney snagged in 2012.
It is likely to happen again. Like Lugar, Sen. Cochran is being dragged down for being a moderate in a low turnout runoff that is likely to be dominated by party ultra-conservatives. And McDaniel fits the Mourdock mold. Years of talk radio comments are likely to haunt him, if he’s the nominee. And he’s already shown his insensitivity with his creepy videotaping of Cochran’s mother in a nursing home.
Democrats even have a credible challenger in Travis Childers. Though he only served a short time in Congress, in Mississippi’s first district, he’s in the mold of Donnelly. Childers’ American Conservative Union (ACU) voting record average was a 40 (with 100 being fully conservative), the same score as former Rep. Gene Taylor (who switched from Democrat to Republican for the Mississippi primary). Rep. Donnelly of Indiana had an ACU score 25. That’s moderate enough for the average Mississippi voter.
While Republicans point out that they won the 2008 Senate election by 10 points in a good Democrat year, McDaniel is no Sen. Roger Wicker. Moreover, the failure of the anti-abortion “personhood” amendment in 2011 shows that the state may be losing its appetite for conservatism. At a minimum, the Mississippi primary should move the state closer to a “toss up” than if Sen. Cochran had won his renomination convincingly.