WASHINGTON — In a remarkable political turnaround, six-term Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi edged out tea party-backed challenger Chris McDaniel Tuesday night in a bruising, costly Republican runoff that pitted Washington clout against insistence on conservative purity.
With 99 percent of precincts reporting, Cochran had 51 percent to McDaniel’s 49 percent, three weeks after McDaniel had beaten the veteran lawmaker in the initial primary round but had fallen short of the majority needed for nomination. In the three-week dash to the runoff, Cochran and his allies had highlighted his seniority and Washington clout while McDaniel had argued that Cochran was part of a Washington blight of federal overspending.
The victory for a stalwart of the Senate Appropriations Committee was a fresh blow to the tea party movement, which spent millions to cast aside Cochran, a mainstream Republican who won a U.S. House seat in President Richard Nixon’s GOP wave of 1972 and has served in the Senate for more than three decades.
Despite Congress’ abysmal public approval ratings, incumbents have largely prevailed midway through the primary season – with two notable exceptions.
Little-known college professor Dave Brat knocked out House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in Virginia’s Republican primary this month, and Republican Rep. Ralph Hall, 91, lost in a Texas runoff to a younger Republican.
McDaniel declared as he voted Tuesday, “We are here, we’re going to fight for our belief system no matter what, and we’re going to reclaim Washington, D.C., one race at a time.”
Cochran and his allies, including former Gov. Haley Barbour, highlighted his decades on the Appropriations Committee and his work directing billions in federal dollars to his home state, one of the poorest in the nation.
The Mississippi contest was the marquee race on a busy June primary day that included New York, Oklahoma, Colorado, Maryland and Utah.
• In a special House election on Florida’s Gulf Coast, voters chose Republican businessman Curt Clawson to replace former Rep. Trey Radel, who resigned in January after pleading guilty to cocaine possession.
• In New York’s Harlem and upper Manhattan, 84-year-old Democratic Rep. Charles Rangel, a 22-term congressman and the third-most-senior member of the House, held a slight edge over state Sen. Adriano Espaillat, bidding to become the first Dominican-American member of Congress.
Rangel, one of the founders of the Congressional Black Caucus, drew criticism last month when he dismissed the 59-year-old Espaillat as a candidate whose only accomplishment was to be a Dominican in a majority Latino district. Two years ago, Rangel prevailed in the primary by fewer than 1,100 votes.
• In Colorado on Tuesday, former Rep. Bob Beauprez won the crowded gubernatorial primary that included 2008 presidential candidate Tom Tancredo, an immigration opponent. That was welcome news to national Republicans who feared that Tancredo could be a drag on the GOP ticket in November. Beauprez will face Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper.
• In Maryland, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown won the Democratic primary for governor as the state chose a successor to outgoing Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley, who is considering a 2016 presidential bid. If elected in the Democratic-leaning state, Brown would make history as one of the few African-American governors; Massachusetts’ Deval Patrick is retiring