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June 20, 2014 9:52 AM Getting Mighty Race-y in Mississippi

By Ed Kilgore

With Tuesday’s MS GOP SEN runoff fast approaching, the Cochran and McDaniels campaigns are really letting it all hang out. Team Thad is now appealing openly to Democratic voters who didn’t vote in the June 3 primary to turn out for him now. And in a racially polarized state like Mississippi, that mostly means African-Americans. Here’s how the New York Times’ Parker and Martin describe it:

It is a remarkable political science experiment, and it also may be the only path to victory left to Mr. Cochran. But after being narrowly edged out by Mr. McDaniel, 41, in the Republican primary earlier this month, Mr. Cochran, 76, needs to expand the number of voters who will show up for the runoff, which is open to any Mississippi resident who did not vote in the Democratic primary. The winner on Tuesday will face former Representative Travis Childers, a conservative Democrat, in November.
“We’ve got efforts reaching out to black voters in Mississippi who want to vote for Thad because they like what Thad is for,” said Austin Barbour, a Cochran campaign adviser. “Thad Cochran is someone who, even with his conservative message, represents all of Mississippi. He’s not some hostile screamer.”

Whatever its risks, the Cochran strategy is creating some tactical problems for Chris McDaniel’s campaign. There’s no party registration in Mississippi, so there’s nothing illegal about asking anyone to vote in your runoff, so long as they didn’t first participate in the other party’s first round. McDaniels supporters are trying to invoke a vague “loyalty oath” kind law passed by Democrats to prevent Republican tactical voting, but it’s entirely unenforceable.

Besides, those Democrats who do vote for Cochran on Tuesday are not engaging in tactical voting—i.e., voting for the candidate they consider easiest to beat in November. If they were, they’d be voting for McDaniel. Moreover, there’s a vast and deep history of self-identified southern Democrats playing in Republican politics.

So exactly what it is about these voters that makes their participation in the runoff so outrageous? It can’t be their race, of course, so it’s gotta be ideology!

Mr. McDaniel and groups supporting him portray Mr. Cochran’s effort as an act of desperation, but they frame their argument in partisan rather than racial terms. “The idea that he would have to reach out to liberal Democrats in an effort to save his candidacy just shows how far to the left he’s gone over the past 42 years,” said Mr. McDaniel, who has run an anti-Washington campaign fueled by Tea Party support.
When it was pointed out that the question was about African-American voters, he replied, “It has nothing to do with that — this is about liberal Democrats.”

Yeah, right. Mississippi is well know for its white liberal Democratic community. There’s absolutely no contradiction between boilerplate GOP “outreach” to minority folk and immediate objections when they ask for a Republican ballot.

Republican state senator Angela Hill got close to candor in a quote supplied to Breitbart:

“The Republican Party has never been the food stamp party, or the party of pork until desperation set in with Thad Cochran’s re-election bid,” Hill said. “I have never seen such open collaboration to get Democrats to spoil a Republican party primary or runoff as is being openly displayed by Thad Cochran operatives in the MS GOP establishment.”

I guess Republicans could start administering lie detector tests at the polls and just ask every prospective voter if he or she is a true conservative, which seems to be the implicit qualification here. Otherwise, the argument will be about keeping black folks away from the ballot box, which is of course the oldest of traditions in Mississippi.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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