Now that the Republican primary in Mississippi is headed to a June 24 run-off between U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran and state Sen. Chris McDaniel, various players are deciding whether they will play in the race over the next three weeks. The most significant announcement was provided to The Cook Political Report by American Crossroads. Communications Director Paul Lindsay gave us this statement: “Other than Alaska, we have completed our work on Senate primaries this cycle and are now focused on general elections. With the Chamber, the NRSC, and a local super PAC already backing Cochran, this is not our fight.”
Crossroads’ absence in the run-off denies Cochran’s campaign a major source of outside spending, but not everyone is staying on the sidelines and Cochran will have plenty of support. Rob Collins, the Executive Director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, has said that the committee will “fully support” Cochran in the run-off. The NRSC’s first priority is always to support incumbent. Rob Engstrom, the national political director for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce tweeted this earlier today, “The @USChamber will stand by Senator Cochran (@ThadforMS).” There is also a super PAC dedicated to Cochran that spent heavily in the primary and can be expected to continue to do so in the run-off.
McDaniel is certainly not without his allies, and Tea Party-affiliated groups will continue to pour significant resources into the race, particularly since this may be a rare victory for them in Senate primaries this cycle. The Club for Growth, which invested heavily in the primary for McDaniel, issued a statement urging Cochran to drop out of the race, leaving the nomination to McDaniel. This is not an especially reasonable request given that just 2,000 votes separate the two candidates. RedState, a conservative blog, went further by demanding that the NRSC start paying for television ads in support of McDaniel.
Still, Cochran does face a real challenge in the run-off. Turnout will be lower and more conservative in the run-off, which does not favor the six-term incumbent. And, there is every chance that the race may get uglier than the primary was. McDaniel starts the run-off campaign with some momentum, putting Cochran in the unfamiliar position of playing defense.
It’s going to be a long three weeks.