Legend has it that John F. Kennedy didn't know he had the nailbiter 1960 presidential race until he took a call from Daley on election night, and "Da Mare" addressed him as "Mr. President." At that point, JFK knew he would carry the state of Illinois (by only 8,000 votes), and defeat Richard Nixon. By various accounts, Mr. Daley and the Democratic machine, in the best Chicago tradition, stuffed ballot boxes and rigged to vote, ensuring Kennedy's triumph.
Six decades later, the GOP establishment in Mississippi (apparently) took a page from the Daley playbook to drag incumbent Senator Thad Cochran across the finish line, and defeat Tea Party challenger Chris McDaniel. Unofficial returns show that Mr. Cochran--seeking his seventh term in the Senate--edged out McDaniel by just over 6,400 votes, out of more than 370,000 cast across the Magnolia State.
According to the Washington Post, Cochran defied almost every convention of political wisdom with his narrow victory. First, he managed to increase the size of the electorate in a run-off election, when there is normally a drop-off in voter participation; secondly, he brought more Mississippians to the polls by actively courting African-American voters, warning that Mr. McDaniel opposed food stamps and other social programs. And finally, Cochran touted his seniority and the pork it brings home to Mississippi.
But Cochran's victory was actually a study in sleaze and voter fraud. McDaniel supporters noted that the number of run-off voters in Hinds County (which includes metro Jackson) far exceeds the number of registered Republicans in that county. Cochran carried the county by 11,000 votes. The incumbent also piled up wide margins in the Mississippi Delta, where African-Americans are a majority in many counties. In one Delta locality (Jefferson County), turnout for the run-off increased by 92% (emphasis ours), and many of those voters were black. By comparison, Mr. McDaniel increased his total in Hinds by only 1,000 votes and ran far behind Cochran in the Delta. In the end, it was just enough Cochran to squeak by.
And how did Senator Cochran persuade large numbers of African-Americans to cross party lines and vote for him? By playing the race card. John Fund of National Review posted this flyer, reportedly distributed by the Cochran campaign in black precincts:
There were also robo-calls, with similar themes. With Thad facing the end of his political career, the Mississippi GOP machine (with plenty of help from their buddies in Washington) pulled out all the stops, convincing enough Democrats--particularly black Democrats---to pull the lever for Cochran.
While party big-wigs congratulate each other on Senator Cochran's stunning "victory," they are ignoring a rather obvious question: how is this a winning formula? McDaniel has refused to concede and may mount a write-in campaign in November. Meanwhile, all of Thad's new-found liberal friends will return home in the fall and vote for his Democratic challenger, former Congressman Travis Childers. Meanwhile, the odious tactics of the Cochran campaign may well keep thousands of conservative voters at home in November, and create a long-term rift in the Mississippi GOP.
There is also the spectre of legal challenges and even criminal investigations. In an interview with Brietbart, the chairman of Mississippi's Democratic Party almost begged McDaniel to contest the results, hoping that internecine warfare within the GOP will give Childers a chance in November.
And don't be surprised if the feds get involved. Republicans have been complaining about voter fraud for years; attorney general Eric Holder may not pass up the opportunity to bludgeon the GOP with one of their favorite issues. Nothing like a full-blown investigation that could tar a number of key Republican officials and keep the scandal percolating through election day--and beyond.
By most accounts, Mr. McDaniel's legal challenge may be on shaky ground. After all, how can you enforce a Mississippi law that bans voters from voting in a primary if they have no intention of supporting the same candidate in the general election? But McDaniel has every reason to feel aggrieved; Thad Cochran and his cronies did whatever it took to give him one last hurrah in the Senate, with little regard for the price to be paid by their "party."