DIAMONDHEAD, Ms. – Six-term Sen. Thad Cochran defeated Tea-Party backed challenger Chris McDaniel in a Republican primary run-off Tuesday night.
The highly-publicized, hotly-contested race in Mississippi drew national attention. It was a Tea Party-backed candidate’s latest attempt to unseat an influential Republican lawmaker.
The candidates remained neck and neck for most of the night, with returns showing Cochran won with 50.5 percent of the vote to McDaniel’s 49.5 percent. Cochran had a lead of 3,800 votes, according to the Associated Press.
Supporters of both candidates made a last-minute push to get out the vote before the polls closed in Mississippi Tuesday night, with volunteers going door to door and holding signs on the side of the road.
“You have two very different candidates, and I don't think anyone thought that Cochran would have this type of battle for the republican nomination,” said BDPC political consultant Greg Rigamer.
Cochran, 76, touted his seniority and record of steering federal money to Mississippi.
“He has seniority and he needs to stay there,” said Linda Taquino, a Republican voter in Diamondhead, MS. “I personally have been the recipient of his willingness to help the people back home when Katrina hit.”
“I think a lot of Mississippians have resented the Tea Party,” said Nell Frisbie, past president of the Mississippi Federation of Republican Women and volunteer for Cochran’s campaign. “Nothing against Sarah Palin and Rick Santorum, but they don't know Mississippi.”
But McDaniel, a 41-year-old state senator, said his opponent was out of touch and responsible for out-of-control spending in Washington. His supporters said it's time for a change.
“Thad's a wonderful man, but he's outlived his time in Washington, D.C.,” said Henry Foreman, a volunteer with the McDaniel campaign.
“I kind of feel that way about all government right now, it's just out with the old, in with the new,” said Dana Breaux, a Republican voter in Diamondhead, MS. “I think it’s time for a change, and we need some new leadership.”
Experts say this is part of a national trend that shows the Republican party is divided.
“I think what we're really seeing is a statement about change,” said Rigamer. “There's nothing more predictable than an angry voter, and the Tea Party does not like the way things are going in Washington.”
Impassioned voters are more likely to turn out, said Rigamer.
Cochran will face off against Democrat Travis Childers in the general election Nov. 4.