Tonight’s surprising win for incumbent Senator Thad Cochran over Tea Party insurgent Chris McDaniel may not be quite over. AP and others have called the race, and the current margin of victory is showing as over 6,000 votes.
But McDaniel did not concede, giving a defiant speech in which he said that “liberal Democrats” were responsible for the win. He also mentioned “irregularities” in the vote.
Under Mississippi law, it appears too late to run as an independent candidate. He could run as a write-in, but that seems like it would be quite tough to do against an incumbent who got his campaign team in order for this runoff. [Update: It appears that the write-in option is not viable in Mississippi.]
So the option would be some kind of lawsuit, presumably one arguing that those Democratic cross-over votes are illegal under the Mississippi law defining who may vote in a party primary. I flagged the possibility of this type of lawsuit a few times over the last few days. As I wrote, t I think the joint Attorney General/SOS statement yesterday imposing clarity before the election would make such a lawsuit a very tough road. Everyone knew before the election who was allowed to vote — basically anyone who did not vote in the Democratic primary a few weeks ago. This is longstanding practice; heck, McDaniel himself apparently voted in a Democratic primary in 2003.
So the idea that the courts are going to come in and subtract an uncertain number of “illegal” Democratic votes cast presumably for Cochran seems most unlikely. The reason to bring such a suit is to delegitimize Cochran’s win, and to keep McDaniel’s supporters fired up with incendiary talk of a “stolen” election. That might be good for McDaniel to keep his supporters happy, but it will win him no friends in the Republican establishment if he wants to run for something else going forward. Indeed, given Cochran’s fragility I would be very surprised to see him serve out another full 6 year term, so there may be an opportunity for U.S. Senator McDaniel not to far from now, if he doesn’t burn too many bridges.
As for Cochran, it is not clear that African-American/Democratic voters were responsible for his margin of victory (the number crunching is not yet done). But now is the time for VRAA supporters to push Sen. Cochran to become the first Senate Republican cosponsor of the Voting Rights Amendments Act. After all, as Cochran himself said today, “I think it’s important for everybody to participate. Voting rights has been an issue of great importance in Mississippi. People have really contributed a lot of energy and effort to making sure the political process is open to everyone.”