All signs point to a three-week runoff battle between longtime Mississippi Senator Thad Cochran and his Tea Party challenger Chris McDaniel. The GOP can avoid what seems sure to be a frantic three-week scramble to secure the nomination if one of two things happen: 1) the precincts who haven't yet reported their election results manage by some miracle to bump McDaniel a few tenths of a percentage point above the simple majority threshold needed to win the primary outright, or 2) one of the two candidates steps aside. McDaniel's allies are hoping Cochoran will do just that.
What are the chances Cochran just throws in the towel? For a guy who seemed reluctant to run and lethargic on the stump, a runoff seems ...— David A. Graham (@GrahamDavidA) June 4, 2014
It's easy to see why, for some, giving up early would not be the most shocking thing to happen in this midterm cycle. That's especially after Molly Ball's must-read Atlantic profile of Cochran on Tuesday painted a portrait of a candidate who was weary of the campaign trail, and who failed to recognize a reporter he met a half an hour ago. Cochran, 76, has said that the first thing he'd like to do after Tuesday's primaries, if he won, was "take a nap." He didn't even speak to his supporters last night at his campaign's election night party.
On Wednesday morning, the conservative Club for Growth released a statement calling for Cochran to save the GOP the pain of a runoff with a voluntary decision to discontinue his candidacy. Club for Growth President Chris Chocola said:
“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. He said he didn’t want to run again, but everyone asked him to. Well, a plurality of Mississippi Republican voters just proved that they don’t want him to...He should do the honorable thing and decline to contest the runoff. Should he choose to persist, the Club for Growth PAC and conservatives throughout Mississippi will vigorously pursue this race to its conclusion, and we will look forward to the election of Senator Chris McDaniel.”
Basically, people who think a Cochran pullout is a good idea are raising two points: first, Cochran didn't really seem to want to run for another term in the first place. And second, the votership for a primary runoff will be more conservative than it was on Tuesday, leaving many to wonder how Cochran, currently in second place, can win under that scenario. To add to the pain, a potential big GOP spender who'd be inclined to support Cochran — Karl Rove's American Crossroads — is going to stay out of any possible runoff in Mississippi.
On the other hand, the GOP establishment also believes that a McDaniel candidacy could make Cochran's seat an unexpected opportunity for Democrats to actually snag a Senator from Mississippi, during a midterm cycle when a GOP takeover of the Senate is within reach. McDaniel, who pitches himself as the most conservative Senate candidate in the country, is currently embroiled in a messy political scandal involving one of his allies.