RICHARDSON: Good news and bad

June 29, 2014 

There is good news and bad for black Mississippians. First the good Sen. Thad Cochran was in the battle of his political career having been forced into a runoff by Tea Party gunslinger Chris McDaniel. So what did the 76-year-old white Republican do in one of the most red states in the nation? He turned to Mississippi’s black community where more than 84 percent chose President Barack Obama in 2012.

Black radio stations and newspapers were filled with ads for Cochran, with noted black leaders and preachers extolling their communities to vote for Cochran because of McDaniel’s outspoken conservative views.

Cochran lost to McDaniel by 1,400 votes on June 3, but he won in last Tuesday’s runoff by almost 6,800 votes. In predominantly black counties, turnout increase by 43 percent, according to The Washington Post. In counties where blacks don’t make up the majority, the turnout increased by 17 percent. When black Mississippians come knocking on Cochran’s Senate door, if he wins in November as expected, he’ll have to listen.

McDaniel is hopping mad and so are ultraconservatives. McDaniel charged that the runoff was “rife with irregularities,” all because Cochran went after the black vote. “We must be absolutely certain that our Republican primary was won by Republican voters,” he said in a campaign statement. Radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh called the black voters who went for Cochran, “black Uncle Tom voters” and called Cochran’s win a “corrupt and undeserved victory.”

The good news also revolves around a political ground game that many blacks had not experienced, much less a ground game sponsored by Republicans to get out their votes. Mounting a ground game is hard work. The question is, can that ground game be brought to bear in future elections? And what of the notion that blacks won’t cross the line and vote Republican? One election -- under these particular circumstances -- is more anomaly than trend, but it shows it’s possible.

Now to the bad news. There was a Democratic primary won by Travis Childers in the state. He’s not feeling the love right now. Establishment Republicans are rejoicing. They feared a McDaniel win might put another Tea Party-no-compromising-obstacle in the Senate, but more than that, they feared McDaniel would espouse views that would hurt the GOP brand nationally. Remember Rep. Todd Akin, a Missouri Republican who made a comment about “legitimate rape” in his race to unseat Sen. Claire McCaskill in 2012?

Other Democrats advised against the crossover just for that reason, hoping McDaniel would upset the apple cart and tarnish other Republicans and lose the seat to a Democrat in the process.

But the bad news I’m focused on goes back to voting, or the lack of voting. Mississippi runs its primaries very similar to Georgia’s. The only people eligible to vote in the Republican runoff were voters who voted Republican in the primary and those who did not vote in either the Democratic or Republican primaries. It’s a problem, even while taking credit for Cochran’s margin of victory, that the Democratic primary only attracted 89,000 voters split among four candidates. Republicans cast 313,483 votes in the primary. That tally went up in the runoff by 62,840 votes.

There is one strange, little, unenforceable law in Mississippi that McDaniel and his supporters are hanging their hats on for a possible legal challenge. It’s illegal in the state to vote in a party’s primary if you don’t intend to vote for the candidate in the November general election. How voting officials can read minds is beyond me.

There will be others who will blast Cochran and Mississippi’s black voters, but you can’t blame voters of any stripe for voting for their own interests. It shows a level of sophistication that’s needed whether Republican or Democrat. Neither party can afford to pigeonhole the black community as both parties have done in the past. They can, and I’m they sure will, attempt to do just that. Both political parties like the old order of things, but I hope this anomaly turns into a trend and not just in Mississippi.

Charles E. Richardson is The Telegraph’s editorial page editor. He can be reached at 478-744-4342 or via email at crichardson@macon.com. Tweet@crichard1020.

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