Outside spending favored the challenger, state Sen. Chris McDaniel, over six-term incumbent Sen. Thad Cochran by about 65 to 35 percent, according to the tally by CRP, a nonpartisan research group that tracks campaign giving. Click here for an itemized list of the groups and their spending. Club for Growth Action, a super-political action committee favoring limited government, spent about $2.5 million to aid McDaniel and oppose Cochran.
Outside groups will now reload and plot strategy for a runoff election on June 24, after an unofficial final count of votes in the June 3 election showed McDaniel with 49.5 percent of the vote and Cochran with 49 percent.
With McDaniel and Cochran running about even, and a third Republican candidate, Thomas Carey, taking the other 1.5 percent of the primary vote, no one secured the majority needed for an outright victory.
“I’m not really in favor of a runoff, but if it brings millions of dollars into the state, that’s good for Mississippi,” Carey told National Journal’s Andrea Drusch on primary day.
According to the unofficial AP tally, there were 313,483 votes cast in the party’s primary, exceeding the turnout of 294,112 in the state’s Republican presidential primary two years ago. The Senate primary vote totals probably will be revised slightly upward as counties certify their vote totals.
The big turnout in the Republican Senate primary also underscores Mississippi’s transition from an ancestrally Democratic state to one that now votes strongly Republican in federal elections. In 1982, when Haley Barbour ran for the Senate in Mississippi, fewer than 42,000 votes were cast in the Republican primary. Barbour later became Republican National Committee chairman and Mississippi’s governor, and he’s been a high-profile supporter of Cochran’s re-election.