Veteran Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran squeaked by challenger Chris McDaniel Tuesday in a bitterly contested Republican runoff that represented the Tea Party’s best remaining chance to take down a longtime incumbent.
With 98 percent of precincts reporting, the Associated Press called it for Cochran, who had 51 percent to McDaniel’s 49 percent.
Five other states — Colorado, Maryland, New York, Oklahoma and Utah – held primaries Tuesday and another, South Carolina, had runoff elections, but the marquee race was the Cochran-McDaniel showdown.
McDaniel appeared to have the advantage in the run-up to Tuesday’s contest. He narrowly led Cochran in the June 3 primary, was ahead in several post-primary polls and was thought to have momentum against the 76-year-old incumbent.
McDaniel, who hit hard on anti-incumbency themes and drew national Tea Party support, had the backing of a range of grassroots conservative luminaries ranging from Sarah Palin to Rick Santorum to Phyllis Schlafly.
Conservative groups, including FreedomWorks, the Club for Growth and the Senate Conservatives Fund, poured in millions in outside spending on his behalf.
Cochran, meanwhile, had financial backing from groups including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Rifle Association.
In the runoff, the six-term incumbent managed to draw on a coalition that included African-American Democrats and independents. Under Mississippi law, Democrats who did not vote in the June 3 Democratic primary could vote in the Republican runoff — and they were essential to Cochran’s post-primary strategy.
In another closely watched Senate race, GOP Congressman James Lankford won the special Senate primary to succeed GOP incumbent Tom Coburn, who is stepping down at the end of the year. By winning 56 percent to former state House Speaker T.W. Shannon’s 36 percent, Lankford won the nomination outright and is expected to cruise to victory in November in the solidly Republican state.
In Maryland, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown won the Democratic nomination for governor, positioning him as the frontrunner to succeed outgoing Gov. Martin O’Malley in the solidly Democratic state. If Brown wins in November, he would become the nation’s 5th African-American governor.
In Tuesday’s most closely watched U.S. House race, longtime New York Congressman Charles Rangel led state Sen. Adriano Espaillat, 48 percent to 43 percent, with 96 percent of precincts reporting.