STARKVILLE – People on both sides of the Mississippi Republican U.S. Senate primary are angry and for the 40-plus days since the June 24 second primary, the debate has raged between supporters of incumbent U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran and challenger state Sen. Chris McDaniel.
For the most part, the venues for those arguments have been social media or the comment section of online news outlets, aggregation sites, and blogs. To be sure, there have been many engaged in those debates that had the courage of their convictions and attached their names to their political stances.
But there have been just as many who took their shots safe in the arms of anonymity. Regardless, the political standoff seemed to grow stronger and more heated as weeks passed.
That’s why I think that Sen. McDaniel’s challenge is a good thing in that it signals the beginning of the end of inertia and uncertainty surrounding the Republican primary. McDaniel and his supporters asked the Mississippi Republican Party Executive Committee to review the evidence submitted by the McDaniel camp and declare him the winner. The party executive committee rather quickly and decisively declined to review the evidence, citing time constraints and ruling that the courts were the proper venue in which to settle the challenge.
That action dovetails with the fact that the committee has already certified the results of the June 24 second primary and the lack of precedent for such an action, as national election law experts like University of California-Irvine law professor Richard L. Hasen wrote in his blog www.electionlawblog.org: “The McDaniel campaign has now posted its election contest papers. The contest presents an even weaker claim than was described at the press conference. This will almost surely fail before both the Miss. Republican party and in court.”
Yet it’s clear that Mississippi and the rest of the country need closure and a reckoning in this long, bitter and divisive campaign. There are people with strong beliefs who need the authority of a ruling by the courts if they are to be able to move forward from this impasse.
The Mississippi GOP has ruled and the matter now moves to the courts. When a lawsuit is filed, the courts will likewise make a ruling. Regardless the party’s ruling and the final decision of the courts, there will be some who will never be satisfied and who will not have faith in the system.
That is why it is important that McDaniel and his supporters get their day before the judicial system. Such challenges are tedious, fraught with delays and present at best a serious distraction from the effort of Mississippi Republicans to win the general election against Democratic challenger and former U.S. Rep. Travis Childers of Booneville.
But only the playing out of the procedural and judicial appellate string can bring any sort of end to the inertia and uncertainty of this post-election battle. The state GOP has made their decision. At some point, a final decision will be made by the courts. At some point, the November ballot will be set.
The hard truth, the uncomfortable truth, for Republicans is that there are fellow citizens and taxpayers among them who may well be unable or unwilling to accept the outcome of the McDaniel challenge if it fails. The hard truth, the uncomfortable truth, for Republicans is that some voters may leave the GOP looking for another political affiliation.
The cogent question becomes then just how many Republicans will take that path? That question not only haunts Republicans, but is also on the minds of Mississippi Democrats seeking to break the stranglehold that the state’s GOP has held on U.S. Senate seats in Mississippi since the late John C. Stennis retired.
Mississippi’s political drama is playing out against a national backdrop in which the GOP has a legitimate chance to regain control of the U.S. Senate in a close political scenario. Nate Silver, arguably the nation’s best political prognosticator, gives the GOP a 60 percent chance of retaking the U.S. Senate and gives Cochran a 97 percent chance of winning in November (http://fivethirtyeight.com/features/republican-gop-senate-forecast/).
But what’s crystal clear at this juncture is that there is a contingent of conservative voters – what size is anyone’s guess at this point – who aren’t moved by those numbers and are hanging on every subtle nuance of the McDaniel challenge.
Sid Salter is a syndicated columnist. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org