WASHINGTON – Battling for political survival, six-term Sen. Thad Cochran defeated tea party favorite Chris McDaniel Tuesday night in a bruising, costly Mississippi primary runoff that exposed deep divisions within the Republican Party.
With 99 percent of precincts reporting, Cochran had 51 percent to McDaniel’s 49 percent, three weeks after McDaniel had beaten the veteran lawmaker in the initial primary round but had fallen short of the majority needed for nomination. In the three-week dash to the runoff, Cochran and his allies had highlighted his seniority and Washington clout while McDaniel had argued that Cochran was part of a Washington blight of federal overspending.
In a last-ditch effort, Cochran had reached out to traditionally Democratic voters – blacks and union members – in what had become an underdog candidacy against the younger McDaniel, his challenger from the right.
The Mississippi contest that threatened to cast aside the 76-year-old Cochran was the marquee race on a busy June primary day that included New York, Oklahoma, Colorado, Maryland and Utah. In a special House election on Florida’s Gulf Coast, voters chose Republican businessman Curt Clawson to replace former Rep. Trey Radel, who resigned in January after pleading guilty to cocaine possession.
In a blow to the tea party movement, two-term Rep. James Lankford of Oklahoma won the GOP nomination in the race to succeed Sen. Tom Coburn, who is stepping down with two years left in his term. In the solidly Republican state, Lankford is all but assured of becoming the next senator.
A member of the House GOP leadership, Lankford defeated T.W. Shannon, a member of the Chickasaw Nation and the state’s first black House speaker. National tea party groups and the Senate Conservatives Fund had backed Shannon, who also had the support of Sarah Palin and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.
In New York’s Harlem and Upper Manhattan, 84-year-old Democratic Rep. Charles Rangel, a 22-term congressman and the third-most-senior member of the House, held a slight edge over state Sen. Adriano Espaillat, bidding to become the first Dominican-American member of Congress.
Rangel, one of the founders of the Congressional Black Caucus, drew criticism last month when he dismissed the 59-year-old Espaillat as a candidate whose only accomplishment was to be a Dominican in a majority Latino district.
In Colorado, former Rep. Bob Beauprez won the crowded primary that included 2008 presidential candidate Tom Tancredo, an immigration opponent. That was welcome news to national Republicans who fear that Tancredo could be a drag on the GOP ticket in November. The winner will face Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper.
In Maryland, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown won the Democratic primary for governor as the state chose a successor to outgoing Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley, who is considering a 2016 presidential bid. If elected in the Democratic-leaning state, Brown would make history as one of the few black governors; Massachusetts’ Deval Patrick is retiring.