There was no outright winner in the Mississippi Republican Senate primary, as the two candidates barreled early Wednesday morning toward a head-to-head runoff.
Neither incumbent GOP Sen. Thad Cochran nor his intra-party challenger, the Tea Party-favourite state Sen. Chris McDaniel, had crossed the 50% threshold as of 7:30 a.m. ET Wednesday morning. McDaniel led Cochran by the slimmest of margins — 49.6% to 48.9%, or just more than 2,000 votes — with 99% of the vote tallied.
Cochran and McDaniel have gone back and forth in a nasty, scandalous, mudslinging race strategists on both sides have called the most vicious election fight in America. Unless the remaining 2% of votes swing heavily in McDaniel’s favour, the fight looks set to drag on for three more weeks in a runoff election.
“Yep,” Cochran campaign manager Jordan Russell said when asked if the race was headed to a runoff.
Cochran did not come out and speak to supporters early Wednesday morning, a move that seemed to baffle observers. McDaniel addressed his supporters only briefly, painting even his current position — “leading a 42-year incumbent” Cochran — as historic. He said the campaign would likely know Wednesday whether it would be headed to a runoff.
“Whether it’s [Wednesday], or whether it’s three weeks from tonight, we will stand victorious in this race,” he said.
Three more weeks of the race in Mississippi would be welcome news for the McDaniel campaign — and for Democrats. Those close to McDaniel have privately admitted 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. Childers easily won his primary race Tuesday night.
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 earlier Tuesday.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee said in a statement early Wednesday morning that it would continue to “fully support” Cochran.
This post has been updated.
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