The day of Mississippi’s primary was expected to be conclusion of a nasty election cycle in which a state senator running his first national campaign was looking to unseat a six-term incumbent in the Republican Primary, but the possibility remained today that it could be extended by a runoff.
At 11 a.m. EST Wednesday morning, Chris McDaniel had 50 percent of the vote while Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) had 49 percent with 99 percent of the precincts reporting.
The slim margin was 153,347 votes for McDaniel and 151,360 for Cochran. A candidate must have 50 percent plus one vote to win.
Cochran and McDaniel might head to a June 24 runoff, but the one certainty is that the winner will face former Rep. Travis Childers (D-Miss.), who won the Democratic primary.
“This is an historic moment in Mississippi’s history…but our fight is not over,” McDaniel told supporters. “Whether its tomorrow or whether its three weeks from now, we will stand victorious. We are going to win this fight because we are Mississippians. We are stronger than them.”
McDaniel did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
With all precincts reporting in Mississippi’s fourth congressional district, incumbent Rep. Steve Palazzo amassed 50.5 percent of the vote in the Republican primary compared to challenger Gene Taylor’s 43 percent. However, while Palazzo had the majority of votes, the Associated Press did not call the race Tuesday night. Reports from The Sun Herald stated there was an issue with ballots in Harrison County. The paper reported Tuesday that county officials were scheduled to meet Wednesday morning about the issue.
Taylor held the fourth district seat for 22 years before Palazzo won in 2010. For this election, he switched to the Republican Party.
Cochran is a six-term senator facing off against a state senator who has been favored by the Tea Party. So far the race has included debate over methamphetamine and a McDaniel supporter taking a photograph of Cochran’s wife, who lives in a nursing home and is suffering from dementia. McDaniel’s campaign denied any relationship with the blogger, Clayton Kelly, 28.
At 8 a.m., McDaniel cast his ballot and planned to visit Jackson and the Gulf Coast before returning to Hattiesburg for an election party.
Cochran’s campaign was holding its election party in Jackson.
“A win here would send a strong shockwave through the system – we know that,” McDaniel told the Hattiesburg American on Tuesday.
On Monday, Cochran spent day at rallies in Meridian and Jackson with state leaders that included Gov. Phil Bryant, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann.
“Tomorrow, the only opinion that matters is Mississippians, not out of state groups,” said Hosemann in a press release from the campaign. “We need Thad Cochran’s leadership in the U.S. Senate fighting for our values.”
Both U.S. Senate candidates have received donations from out of state sources. PACs made up nearly 80 percent of the money Cochran raised in 2013. The majority of McDaniel’s money came from the Senate Conservatives Fund or the Club for Growth, according to Opensecrets.org.
In a statement this morning, the Club for Growth encouraged Cochran to give up.
“Yesterday’s historic vote makes it clear that Mississippians are ready to turn the page to a new generation of bold, conservative leadership. Senator Cochran has served honorably, but the rationale for his candidacy ended yesterday,” Club for Growth President Chris Chocola said.
McDaniel’s last rally before the campaign was held Saturday in Diamondhead, where former presidential candidate and U.S. Senator Rick Santorum headlined.
But the Republican primary for the U.S. Senate was not the only race garnering interest, thanks to the House race party switch. Taylor was previously a Democratic congressman representing Mississippi’s fourth district. Taylor was defeated in 2010 by Palazzo and later became a Republican for the 2014 rematch.
This was the first election for Mississippi’s Voter ID Law, which meant voters had to show a photo identification card when voting at a polling place on Election Day or during the absentee voting period at a county clerk of courts office.
While there were two high-profile races going on, there were few Election Day issues.
According to the secretary of state’s office, it received 150 calls by 10 a.m. The subject of those calls dealt mainly with voting machines, registration questions and finding polling places.
“In comparison to previous years, the 2014 primary Election Day has been very quiet in Mississippi,” said Hosemann in a statement. “The limited number of calls coming into our office, coupled with the lack of activity on the Statewide Election Management System and reports from our observers, indicate we have had light turnout thus far.”
UPDATE 6 p.m.: Palazzo is the winner in Mississippi’s fourth congressional district primary. McDaniel and Cochran will move to a June 24 runoff.
In a statement, Cochran called the results “one more step toward making November Mississippi’s moment when we take back the U.S. Senate.”
McDaniel campaign spokesman Noel Fritsch called the challenger’s finish “a clear sign of the groundswell of energy behind his campaign to bring a true conservative agenda to Washington, D.C.”
“We look forward to a vigorous debate with Senator Cochran on the issues over the next three weeks,” Fritsch said.