Thursday, July 03, 2014

The Chris McDaniel Problem

State Sen. Chris McDaniel (R-MS)
State Sen. Chris McDaniel's continued focus on the recent primary that he lost, over a week after the race is over and he missed by a scant 7000-odd votes is probably the most fascinating thing happening in politics right now.  Mississippi is rarely in the spotlight, and McDaniel's smear campaign against Cochran has turned brutally ugly (though there's no proof yet that McDaniel's supporters were behind the racially-charged questions at the press call yesterday, it's just indicative of what this race has turned into that people are assuming his campaign was a part of it: the meanest race of the cycle, making even Kentucky's battle look nice by comparison).

The reality for McDaniel is pretty clear at this point.  Though 7000 votes is a very close election, the margin isn't close enough for a recount and that leaves him with very few options.  Sure he's picked up a bevy of supporters and has name recognition that comes with that, but the road for people who challenge sitting U.S. Senators and lose is a rough one.  Most of them end up becoming historical footnotes, as U.S. Senators usually come with major political operations and lots of allies, and politics is made for grudges.  Even someone who had a career as promising as, say, Bill Halter in Arkansas hasn't been able to see the light of day since.  In fact, in the past fifteen years, the only candidate to defeat a sitting senator to still hold office is Mike Lee in Utah-otherwise everyone is either out-of-office or never even got there (another thorn in Travis Childers' side is that the challengers almost always benefit in such situations).  There's a decent chance that Andrew Romanoff manages a career renaissance this year in Colorado, but he was also A) challenging an appointed senator, a different motus operandi entirely and B) he's running for a lower office than the Senate, getting a little kick in the pants after challenging the establishment favorite four years ago, who now happens to be the chair of the DSCC.

Really, the better question here is not surrounding McDaniel's future, which appears pretty grim for such a young politician, but whether or not he has a point.  In politics there's being "right" and being right, and when it comes to the latter, McDaniel clearly does not understand that it is well past time to get out of the spotlight.  Much like how challenging a debate moderator about the rules is political poison not because the moderator is wrong, but because it makes you look whiny, complaining about who voted in a primary may be an interesting debate to have, but it's hardly a good idea to do right after you lost an election.  The reality is that, provided no new evidence comes up (it's hard to sort through all of the accusations on this one), Cochran clearly won, even if it was in an unconventional way.  Mississippi doesn't have closed primaries, and Democrats are more than welcome to come out and support a candidate.

Strategically, I do think the Democrats missed a major opportunity here in Mississippi.  This is perhaps the most conservative state in the union, but McDaniel has shown himself to be a truly awful candidate, and one who has jumped the race-baiting gun in a way that few politicians in any other state might have been willing to do.  Had he been the nominee and continued acting in such a manner, there's a decent possibility that African-American voters would have come out in droves, and had enough moderate Cochran voters migrated over to Travis Childers' side, this could have been that rare bright spot on the electoral map for the Democrats (for Harry Reid, it's all about getting to fifty, even if that means getting a conservative Democrat elected in a state that would guarantee he only serves one term).   However, what's done is done, and the votes have been cast.  It's impossible for McDaniel to prove that specific voters voted A) for Cochran and B) shouldn't count because they're "Democrats."  Unless there's impropriety, he has to move on from this.

The larger question is-should primaries be closed?  I can partially see McDaniel's point here.  While getting voters out is, quite frankly, enough of a labor that you don't want to risk losing some of them to throwing a monkey wrench into the other side, with the increase in negative campaigning, this has become something of a factor.  Candidates like Claire McCaskill and Emily Cain have publicly discussed whom they wanted to face in their general elections (and it's worth noting that both women got the candidates that they were publicly hoping for, and in McCaskill's case, this paid off big dividends).  Both sides alike have seen first-hand how people like Christine O'Donnell and Richard Mourdock can throw an election to the other side.  If elections like what happened with Cochran become more the norm (and considering the success Cochran experienced, there's no reason to believe that others won't try something similar in the future), there's something to worry about here-it's the equivalent of "Vote for the Worst" on American Idol, except in this case it's our government and not bad singers we're talking about.

However, at the end of the day, I'm not in favor of a closed primary.  I don't think you should get to vote in both primaries, and if you voted one way in the general primary you shouldn't get to switch in the runoff, but people's views change, and forcing someone to only vote how they are registered is a recipe for disaster.  It forces people to know how they are registered (there are still a number of overwhelmingly Republican swaths of the South where the registration favors the Democrats on paper because people never changed their party registration since the 1970's), and it also greatly impacts swing voters who might vote for Republicans and Democrats in a general election.  So while campaigns may need to get smarter to avoid crossover voting, more people voting in an election is too good of a thing to pass up.

All that being said, is anyone else genuinely wondering what happens next with Chris McDaniel?  I think this might be as bad as a Christine O'Donnell situation at this point (he seems to be employing a really nasty kitchen sink strategy)-anyone think he can recover when people eventually move on and Cochran remains the nominee?  Share in the comments!

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