A nasty, scandalous, mudslinging race strategists on both sides have called the most vicious election fight in America could come to an end Tuesday night, as Republican primary voters head to the polls. Or it could drag on for a few more weeks — something that could be very bad news for Republicans.
So far, four local activists and officials have been arrested in conjunction with Mississippi’s Senate Republican primary. The men were allegedly involved in a conspiracy to photograph the unsuspecting wife of Republican incumbent Sen. Thad Cochran. And the Cochran campaign has repeatedly attempted to tie the scandal to the his Tea Party insurgent challenger, state Sen. Chris McDaniel, as the race goes down to the wire.
Almost three weeks ago, police say, local blogger Clayton Thomas Kelly allegedly snuck into a nursing home to take the picture of Cochran’s wife, who has been in the home since 2000 with early onset dementia. Kelly posted the photo on his blog as part of a video designed to fuel rumours of a romantic relationship between Cochran and his executive assistant.
One of the arrested men, Mississippi Tea Party Vice Chairman Mark Mayfield, has extensive ties with McDaniel. Both candidates have spent the past few weeks
trading accusations about the scandal back and forth. The McDaniel campaign has denied any involvement and accused Cochran of attempting to exploit the situation.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” one 20-year campaign veteran aligned with the Cochran campaign told Business Insider of the campaign fight. “You’d be hard-pressed to find anything worse in the entire country.”
After all of this feuding, the race likely won’t be decided when the polls close at 8 p.m. ET Tuesday night.
The Real Clear Politics average of recent surveys conducted on the race show it in a dead heat, 42.5-42.5. And if it stays that way, that would mean a runoff where Cochran and McDaniel slug it out for three more weeks. To avoid this scenario, one of the candidates would need to capture more than 50% of the vote. With polls where they are and a third Republican candidate, Thomas Carey, the chance of a runoff being avoided are growing slimmer.
In that case, the nightmare for the Republican establishment could grow. Those close to McDaniel privately admit they would love a runoff. Democrats would love it too — it would mean three more weeks of GOP brawling.
Democrats would also much rather face McDaniel than Cochran. A McDaniel win, which would be much more likely in a runoff with less turnout, could theoretically put the seat in play for centrist Democratic candidate Travis Childers, a former U.S. congressman. Even being forced to pour resources into Mississippi would serve as a hindrance toward Republicans’ hopes of taking a Senate majority in the midterm elections this year.
“A McDaniel win is the best-case scenario for Democrats,” one Democratic strategist told Business Insider.
A spokesperson for the National Republican Senatorial Committee didn’t respond to a question seeking comment on whether the committee would endorse McDaniel in a general-election race, something its chairman refused to do on television late last month. The spokesperson said the race would be “very close,” depending on higher turnout that stands to benefit Cochran.
This post was updated at 1:28 p.m. ET.
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