Tea Partiers Scramble To Crush Sen. Thad Cochran In Runoff Election


Since Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS) and state Sen. Chris McDaniel (R-MS) look all but certain to face each other in a runoff in about three weeks, McDaniel supporters smell blood in the water.

Just a few hours after a late primary night that found Cochran and McDaniel separated by a razor-thin margin, and McDaniel outside groups supporting his candidate started focusing on the next task: money.

“I’m going to be brutally honest with you: our campaign is pretty low on money and there’s no way we can win if conservatives from around Mississippi and America don’t stand up and make sure we have the resources we need to win,” McDaniel wrote in an email to supporters.

Tea Party groups and other McDaniel supporters are indicating they can’t just coast to victory over the next three weeks in the runoff, even with a slight lead over Cochran. They need one more big influx of cash as they plan a particular attack strategy for the three weeks before the June 24 runoff. These groups and supporters plan to spend big to help the tea party challenger to Cochran but their coffers are rather low.

“So here’s the plan for the next three weeks. Today, I need you to give the most that you can possibly give to Chris,” The Madison Project’s Drew Ryun wrote to supporters. “I am huddling with the team today to put our three week plan together.”

The Senate Conservatives Fund and the Club for Growth and sent a similar pleas for cash and the Club for Growth also urged Cochran to drop out of the race (which seems unlikely). These groups say they are still formulating a plan but what’s clear is that the push is going to be a doubling of previous efforts to help McDaniel replace Cochran or go a bit beyond that.

“I think Cochran, I think us, I think all of these groups, I think there are no coins left in the treasury. We left them all out in the field. But the thing is we’ll probably be hitting and emailing our lists in the next day or so. We want to see what’s going on and we’ll be making phone calls to folks,” FreedomWorks executive vice president Adam Brandon told TPM on Wednesday.

FreedomWorks had spent about $350,000 so far in support of McDaniel and could easily aim to push that number up to $500,000 by the end of the runoff, Brandon said.

“I think if you ask me about this tomorrow I think I’d have a better idea but we spent about $350,000 coming into this point and what I would be comfortable saying is we’ll spend maybe a couple hundred more but we’ve got to look at our plan because there are a couple of things we just can’t execute anymore, there’s not enough time,” Brandon said. “But we’ll be making the yard signs orders today, we’ll be making materials order today so will it be $150,000, will it be $250,000? I’m not sure but throwing a dart against the wall I’m not sure but when it’s all said and done I wouldn’t be surprised if we spent half a million dollars in Mississippi.”

Tea Party Patriots, another outside group, is still formulating a plan on what’s next, but the group’s communications director, Kevin Broughton, told TPM that it aggressively planned to reach out to supporters now and make one final get out the vote push.

“I don’t think our approach is gonna change at all. We’re going to ask our folks to reach down and do this one more time and do this for another three weeks,” Broughton said.

Broughton said that so far his group had spent a little less than $700,000 total so far and would continue to spend money in the same manner.

“It’s a shade under $700,000. Probably $400,000 of that was an ad buy. A lot of that was get out the vote training,” Broughton said.

Outside groups have spent roughly $8.5 million in the race, most of which has gone to advertising on television, according to The Washington Post. That’s in addition, the Post said, to the $3 million the Cochran campaign has spent and the $1 million McDaniel has spent.

On Wednesday, one of the most prominent Republican establishment organizations, American Crossroads, co-founded by Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie, said it would not jump into the Cochran-McDaniel race going forward, according to Politico. The group had not been involved in the race so far but the fact that it is not jumping into help Cochran in such a tight race closed a possibly very helpful funding source for the incumbent senator.

So how did McDaniel and Cochran get here? Especially given that many other tea partiers in high profile races have flopped in the 2014 election cycle. Strategists and Republican officials say Cochran may have underestimated McDaniel and the support he’s received from deep-pocketed tea party organizations.

“I certainly hate to Monday Morning quarterback anything. I think if people were being honest with you and you asked 50 people those 50 people would tell you he should’ve gotten started earlier,” Mississippi Republican Party Chairman Joe Nosef told TPM. “I don’t mean that critical but I mean clearly, I think, anybody would believe that. It just was kind of a tough thing to do to ramp up when you haven’t had a campaign since 1984. I think that obviously would’ve been much more to his benefit.”

McDaniel has also done a good job of energizing tea partiers by framing Cochran as an out-of-touch Washington insider, Republican strategist Hogan Gidley told TPM. Gidley previously served as a spokesman for former Sen. Rick Santorum, who endorsed McDaniel recently.

“He was defined before he even got in the race and it seems like that Cochran folks were just oblivious to the fact that the McDaniel folks were just doing a great job defining him,” Gidley said.