Thad Cochran’s Plan B: Woo Democrats

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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Having failed to fend off the primary challenge of conservative Senate candidate Chris McDaniel, strategists advising Sen. Thad Cochran’s campaign seem to have come up with an unorthodox theory for winning the June 24 runoff election: If you can’t win the game with the current electoral universe, change the universe.

As the New York Times reports:

Senator Thad Cochran’s supporters opened Mississippi’s Republican Senate runoff on Wednesday by signaling that they would treat the race like a general election and seek the votes of Democrats and independents during the three-week campaign against State Senator Chris McDaniel.


… There is no party registration in Mississippi, and with former Representative Travis Childers having secured the Democratic Senate nomination on Tuesday, there will be no statewide Democratic runoff.

This news, of course, opens Cochran up to more attacks from the right:

“The Cochran campaign is by all means welcome to try to make this runoff completely different from every other runoff that has been run in the history of American politics,” said Barney Keller, a spokesman for the conservative Club for Growth, which spent the most of the conservative groups against Mr. Cochran during the primary.

When an incumbent fails to garner 50 percent of the vote in an election, that usually spells trouble in a runoff. So if you’re betting on this race, the smart money is now on Chris McDaniel.

But having said that, this seems to be the only play for Cochran. And rather than merely looking to past runoff elections as the only model, Cochran’s team might find some solace in looking at other examples of embattled incumbents who defied the will of their party’s primary voters.

For example, after Joe Lieberman lost the Democratic Senate Primary in 2006 to Ned Lamont, Lieberman ran as an independent, defeating Lamont in the General Election. And after losing a Republican primary in 2010 to Joe Miller, Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski ran, and won, a write-in campaign. (Of course, these kinds of desperate maneuvers doesn’t always work for incumbents or establishment favorites. See, for example, Arlen Specter and Charlie Crist.)

The good news for Cochran is that Lieberman and Murkowski both found ways to expand their pool of voters and defy their party’s base — after having lost a primary contest. The bad news for Cochran is that they both did it in a General Election. It’s presumably going to be much harder for Cochran to get Democrats to turn out and vote in a Republican runoff election on some random Tuesday in June.