Nothing in life is free. And now that Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS) was able to narrowly beat his Tea Party rival, due to thousands of black Democrats who crossed party lines to vote in the GOP primary runoff, his new constituency is looking to cash in on their influence.
In their minds, Cochran, who is in line to chair the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee if Republicans take back the Senate, is now a part of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC)–and should vote like a CBC member.
According to Politico, “Members of the Congressional Black Caucus are talking about what they want Cochran to do” if he gets re-elected for another six-year term. Their wishlist includes “maintaining funding for food stamps, beefing up programs that help poor blacks in Mississippi and even supporting the Voting Rights Act.”
“Absolutely we have expectations,” Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH), the chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, told Politico. Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA) said after Cochran was “desperate” enough to court the black vote, he hopes that Cochran is now “responsive to the voters that pushed him over the top.” And Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO) said he hopes Cochran “comes to the realization that African Americans are the reason I have this final six years and therefore I’m going to try and be more responsible than I have been.”
NAACP Mississippi state President Derrick Johnson told Politico that Cochran should immediately oppose voter ID laws and get “the presidents of the black colleges to ask for his offices for help to make sure the [missions] of those institutions are carried out.”
Groups supporting the Cochran campaign overtly played the race card on conservatives during the runoff. Pro-Cochran groups courted black voters by passing out fliers and running deceptive and incendiary radio ads that alleged the Tea Party was racist and would take away their food stamps, welfare payments, and funding to the state’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
Cochran supporters included a “who’s who” of establishment Republicans, like the Barbour family and Stuart Stevens, the chief strategist for Mitt Romney’s failed presidential campaign. In a Monday column in the Daily Beast, Stevens actually compared Cochran’s critics to sexists. He wrote that attacking the Cochran campaign for maligning conservatives to court liberal black voters was like criticizing a campaign for reaching out to female voters. With a wink and a nod, Stevens wrote of the increased black turnout, “Should it come as any shock that on the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer, African Americans also wanted to participate in the electoral process?”
In Mississippi, voting is largely polarized along racial lines, with whites voting for Republicans and blacks voting for Democrats. In his remarks denouncing Cochran’s tactics, state Senator Chris McDaniel, Cochran’s primary rival, invariably focused on the political party of the crossover voters. Cochran’s allies, meanwhile, went to great lengths to stoke racial animus.
Pro-Cochran groups pushed black Democrats to polls by tying the Tea Party to the era of segregation before the Freedom Summer. And that mobilization strategy, allegedly with the aid of some “walking around money” and illegal votes, clearly worked on election night. One analysis “concluded that Cochran’s margin of victory in counties where the black share of voters was above the statewide average was 14,300 in the primary but 25,224 in the runoff,” which Cochran won by just over 6,000 votes.
McDaniel’s campaign is currently reviewing ballots and claims it has identified over 1,000 problematic ballots. Under state law, individuals who voted in the June 3 Democratic primary were not permitted to vote in the June 24 GOP runoff.