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Mississippi GOP U.S. Senate primary headed for round two

U.S. Senator Thad Cochran and State Senator Chris McDaniel finished neck-and-neck, but neither won the majority needed to avoid a runoff

♦By Rich Shumate, editor

mississippi mugJACKSON, Mississippi (CFP) — Mississippi’s contentious and personal Republican U.S. Senate primary race will carry on for three more weeks, as neither U.S. Senator Thad Cochran nor State Senator Chris McDaniel won the majority needed to avoid a June 24 runoff.

McDaniel took 49.5  percent of the vote in the June 3 primary, compared to 49 percent for Cochran, with less than 1,400 votes separating them out of nearly 313,000 cast. A third candidate, Thomas Carey, took just 1.6 percent — enough to thrown the race into a runoff.

Whoever survives the runoff will former Democratic U.S. Rep. Travis Childers in November’s general election.

U.S. Senator Thad Cochran

U.S. Senator Thad Cochran

McDaniel drew support from Tea Party activists and outside anti-establishment groups such as the Senate Conservatives FundFreedomWorks and the Club for Growth, in his challenge to Cochran, 76, the second-longest serving Republican in the Senate.

Cochran is one of five sitting Southern GOP senators targeted for defeat by outside conservative groups, who were 0-for-2 headed into Mississippi. Incumbents easily survived primaries in Texas and Kentucky, with contests still to come in South Carolina and Tennessee.

The GOP primary result is good news for Democrats, who are rooting for a McDaniel victory to have an outside shot at capturing a Senate seat in deeply Republican Mississippi. Childers got into the race when it became apparent Cochran might lose, which would give Democrats an opening against the more conservative candidate running statewide for the first time.

Childers was elected to the U.S. House from Mississippi in 2008 but lost his seat in the Republican wave of 2010.

The GOP primary became nasty and personal and took a bizarre turn when Clayton Kelly, a conservative blogger and McDaniel supporter, was arrested for sneaking into a Madison nursing home to film Cochran’s bedridden wife, Rose, for a political video.

Three other people have been arrested on conspiracy charges in connection with the incident, including Mark Mayfield, the vice chairman of the Mississippi Tea Party.

McDaniel denounced Kelly’s behavior and denied any knowledge of the scheme. But that didn’t stop Cochran’s campaign from using Kelly’s photograph in a TV ad, identifying him as a McDaniel supporter charged with a felony and demanding that the challenger eschew “dirty politics.”

McDaniel called the Cochran ad “shameful.” But the Cochran campaign pointed to inconsistent statements given by McDaniel and his campaign about when they first became aware of the video of Cochran’s wife.

State Senator Chris McDaniel

State Senator Chris McDaniel

McDaniel, 41, from Ellisville, is serving his second term in the Mississippi Senate. He portrayed Cochran as a creature of the Washington establishment and attacked his conservative credentials, particularly his vote for last year’s compromise that reopened the federal government and funded Obamacare.

Cochran and groups allied with him, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, hit McDaniel’s work as a personal injury lawyer. They have also criticized statements he made that some of the money that flowed into Mississippi after Hurrtcane Katrina was wasted.

Cochran, the former chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, touted his seniority and his ability to get federal funds for Mississippi, particularly after Katrina devastated the state’s Gulf Coast in 2005.

Outside groups poured more than $8 million into attack ads in the Magnolia State, where media is relatively inexpensive. Those outside ads will likely continue through the runoff.

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