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Thad Cochran Gets Creative

In the wake of Eric Cantor’s surprise primary defeat earlier this month, there were musings (which appear to have been incorrect) that Democrats may have cost Cantor his seat by crossing over and voting in the GOP primary. Democratic involvement in such races has recently taken the form of meddling on behalf of the most conservative–and therefore, to Democrats, most beatable–Republican candidate. It is usually unwelcome. But not always.

In a creative reversal of the trend, the establishment candidate in Mississippi’s GOP Senate primary runoff is enlisting Democrats to help him beat back a more conservative challenge. Specifically, incumbent Senator Thad Cochran is trying to appeal to the state’s black voters to help him at the polls. Black voters make up 36 percent of Mississippi’s registered voters, the largest such share in the country. But because the state is politically conservative, it doesn’t tend to make much of a difference in statewide races. (Cook Political Report has the Senate seat at “likely Republican.”)

The Times reports on the campaign:

The Cochran outreach campaign is taking many forms. The “super PAC” supporting the senator, Mississippi Conservatives, is paying African-American leaders, including Mr. Crudup, to help lift black turnout on Tuesday, said Pete Perry, a Republican strategist here who is working for the group.

“We’re working with a whole bunch of different folks, and Crudup is one of them,” said Mr. Perry, noting with a chuckle that his introduction to the church-based black politics of the South has been “a real education.” Mr. Perry declined to say exactly how much Mississippi Conservatives was paying to increase African-American turnout but said “sure” when asked whether it was in the five-figure range.

Another group, All Citizens for Mississippi, paid for an advertisement that ran in two black-oriented Jackson newspapers and highlighted Mr. Cochran’s work for African-Americans. The group lists Mr. Crudup’s church as its address.

This is both a fascinating experiment and a long shot, to say the least. Primary turnout already gets the more motivated party voters to turn out instead of waiting for the general election, and a runoff gets even fewer. As such, in the age of the Tea Party they tend to favor the conservative insurgent. (David Dewhurst, for example, defeated Ted Cruz in their primary by double digits, yet didn’t garner enough of the vote to avoid a runoff. Cruz returned the favor in a relatively easy runoff victory.)

So Cochran’s challenge is more than getting his supporters out to a low-turnout runoff; he’s trying to get the voters who never vote for him in the general election to come to his aid in the runoff. It’s possible Cochran can get the right combination of his own supporters plus traditional Democrats to overcome the challenge from opponent Chris McDaniel. But the state’s black voters often give 90 percent or more of their support to Democrats, so it’s not as though he’s bidding for swing voters.

Just as interesting, however, is the argument black leaders are making in support of Cochran, and what it says about American politics:

Mr. Cochran had helped Mississippi’s blacks during his six terms, Mr. Crudup said, and it was now time to repay him with their support in the political fight of his life, especially against an opponent who was known to have made racially insensitive remarks when he was a talk-show host. …

Some of Mr. Cochran’s supporters and some top black Mississippi Democrats say the suggestion is indeed reasonable because the senator is not an ideological firebrand and has used his status as a senior member of the Appropriations Committee to deliver projects to Mississippi. Mr. Simmons, who represents a largely black district in the Delta, reeled off the money that Mr. Cochran had secured for health centers, historically black colleges and infrastructure.

“He has been able to do a lot of good for the state of Mississippi,” said Mr. Simmons, who said his efforts for Mr. Cochran were entirely voluntary. “He did not have to ask me, I told him I was supporting him.”

So having Cochran in the Senate helps the state’s black communities on important issues such as health and education. He’s even earned the voluntary support of some black officials for the runoff. Yet it’s still considered exceptional for the black community to vote for him.

No doubt there are historical issues at play, and I don’t presume to be an expert on Mississippi politics. And of course, it’s possible that the Democratic candidate in each statewide election will be materially better for the black community than the Republican candidate, each and every time. But I find that to be unlikely. It’s worth taking note that one of the unintended effects of this get-out-the-vote campaign for Cochran has been black voters happily admitting that the GOP–the party they almost never vote for–has been good to them.

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