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Analysis: Why Chris McDaniel’s fight won’t succeed even if it does

The best possible outcome — overturning his primary loss — won’t get him to the U.S. Senate

♦By Rich Shumate, editor

Mississippi State Senator Chris McDaniel and his supporters are still seething over his primary runoff loss to veteran U.S. Senator Thad Cochran, particularly vexed by the fact that the only way Cochran survived was with Democratic cross-over votes.

In the weeks since the runoff, McDaniel has been making noise about a court challenge to the result and has even been raising money to pay for it. His camp claims to have evidence of more than 8,000 questionable votes — a number of voters larger than Cochran’s margin of victory.

State Senator Chris McDaniel

State Senator Chris McDaniel

Such a court challenge might be satisfying for people who think they were cheated out of a much anticipated victory. But would it be wise?

Consider the best possible outcome for McDaniel. It is exceedingly unlikely that a judge would just toss the result and hand the GOP nomination to McDaniel. A more possible (but not likely) scenario is that a judge throws out the primary result and orders the runoff to be rerun.

Assume, for the sake of argument, that McDaniel wins the third time around. He would be the nominee of a fiercely divided party. The atmosphere between his supporters and Cochran’s would be poisonous. The Democratic nominee, former U.S. Rep. Travis Childers, would be in the driver’s seat come November.

In that case, the Republican nomination would be a thing not worth having. And McDaniel would take the blame.

An even worse possible outcome for McDaniel would be to try to overturn the result and lose. Right now, he has political capital from being perceived as a wronged party. He still has a future in statewide politics. But if he drags Mississippi Republicans through a bitter fight, that capital vanishes.

History gives us two examples that are pertinent here.

In 1960, Richard Nixon narrowly  lost the presidency under questionable circumstances. But he decided not to contest the results. Eight years later, he was president.

In 2000, Al Gore decided to put America through Florida recount hell, even though he knew he was unlikely to prevail. It was the end of his political career.

Nixonian behavior is not normally recommended. But there are times when the best thing to do in a bad situation is just walk away, no matter how unfair it might seem at the time.

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