HATTIESBURG, Mississippi –With final votes still being counted, Tea Party-backed state Sen. Chris McDaniel is poised to force a runoff against 42-year incumbent Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS) in the GOP primary here, likely prompting a three-week dash to the finish of an epic race between conservatives and the GOP Establishment.
“Whether it’s tomorrow or whether it’s three weeks from now we will be victorious,” McDaniel said during a speech to supporters here around 11:30 p.m. CT. Cochran did not plan to address his campaign rally, according to NBC reporter Kasie Hunt.
With 97.9 percent of precincts reporting, McDaniel was up nearly 3,000 votes at 49.6 percent to Cochran’s 48.8 percent, according to the Associated Press.
The likely runoff follows an all-night nail-biter between Cochran and McDaniel that saw each candidate see-saw between winner and loser. McDaniel supporters at an event here were ecstatic, cheering loudly at the television whenever new results come in while a country rock band and bagpipe band take turns entertaining the crowd.
A third candidate, Thomas Carey, received about 1.6 percent of the vote, denying either Cochran (49 percent) or McDaniel (49.4 percent) an outright victory under Mississippi’s election laws.
In the closing days of the campaign, the arrest of a blogger who entered Cochran’s wife’s residence to photograph her had begun to fade and Cochran was facing new questions about his age and mental acuity after a series of blunders on the campaign trail.
Earlier Wednesday, The Atlantic’s Molly Ball wrote Cochran had forgotten who she was less than thirty minutes after she had interviewed him. The six-term incumbent also accidentally told veteran Washington Post reporter Dan Balz that Obamacare is “an important effort by the federal government” and was confused by a third question about television ads his campaign is running.
The three-week extension after a brutal, months-long slugfest may give McDaniel, 42, an edge in stamina, although the deep pockets of the GOP Establishment could help push Cochran over the finish line.
“We sit here tonight leading a 42-year incumbent,” McDaniel added in a brief speech.
McDaniel said that “this is a historic moment” and “tonight from Mississippi they [the Washington establishment] heard us once again.”
“We owe everything that happened here tonight to our lord and Savior Jesus Christ,” McDaniel said a few moments later after his two sons joined him on stage.