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Mainstream Republicans Prevail Over Tea Party in Mississippi Senate Race

U.S. Senator Thad Cochran, R-Miss., addresses supporters and volunteers at his runoff election victory party, June 24, 2014.

U.S. Senator Thad Cochran, R-Miss., addresses supporters and volunteers at his runoff election victory party, June 24, 2014.

Mainstream Republicans are claiming another victory in their long-running political battle with activists from the conservative Tea Party movement after a Senate primary runoff election in Mississippi. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more on the significance of this latest political showdown from Washington.

Senator Thad Cochran is the latest in a series of establishment Republicans who have prevailed in primary showdowns with challengers from the conservative Tea Party movement.

“And so we all have a right to be proud of our state tonight,” he said.

Cochran’s narrow victory was a setback for challenger Chris McDaniel and the Tea Party movement in general.

Courting Democrats

McDaniel complained Cochran prevailed in part by appealing to Democratic voters, many of whom are African-American, who were eligible to vote in the Republican runoff election because they had not voted earlier in the Democratic primary.

“I guess they can take some consolation in the fact that they did something tonight by once again compromising, by once again reaching across the aisle, by once again abandoning the conservative movement.”

McDaniel lost despite fundraising and volunteer help from national Tea Party organizations that had made the Mississippi race a priority in their ongoing struggle with mainstream Republicans and their desire to push the party in a more conservative direction.

Tea Party supporters claimed a major victory earlier this month with the surprise primary defeat of Congressman Eric Cantor of Virginia, the Republican leader in the House of Representatives.

John Fortier of the Bipartisan Policy Center said establishment Republicans have had a lot of success in beating back more conservative challengers in this election cycle.

“I think the overall balance of this year has seen more establishment Republicans winning, good candidates winning, and Republicans unlikely to lose races where they might have in the last couple of years because they put up a bad candidate,” said Fortier.

Fortier and other experts say that if Republicans continue to nominate candidates acceptable to mainstream voters, they will enhance their chances of gaining the six seats they need in November to retake control of the Senate from Democrats.

Jockeying for position

Most analysts give Democrats little chance of winning back control of the House, where Republicans enjoy a sizeable advantage.

Democrats continue to watch the internal Republican Party infighting with interest. Virginia based Democratic strategist Joe Lestingey expects the Republican struggle with the Tea Party to continue through the 2016 presidential primaries.

“They still have a voice and they can still fight, and it is going to be an internal struggle within the party for the next couple of years until they get this sorted out.”

The 2016 battle for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination is shaping up as a free-for-all with no clear favorite. Some establishment Republicans have urged former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie to enter the race.

Tea Party activists have their own favorites among potential candidates, including Texas Senator Ted Cruz, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul and Florida Senator Marco Rubio.

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    Jim Malone

    Jim Malone has served as VOA’s National correspondent covering U.S. elections and politics since 1995. Prior to that he was a VOA congressional correspondent and served as VOA’s East Africa Correspondent from 1986 to 1990. Jim began his VOA career with the English to Africa Service in 1983.