The Mississippi Republican senate primary race was a disaster. It pitted Tea Party challenger Chris McDaniel against 36 year incumbent Senator Thad Cochran and featured not just the typical ugly rhetoric, but accusations of voter fraud and a break-in at a nursing home. Senator Cochran lost the initial vote, but because Mr. McDaniel did not achieve the proper margin of victory, by state party rules a runoff was conducted. Runoffs following a general election with only two significant candidates rarely produce a different result, but this one did. Senator Cochran won his party’s nomination and will in all likelihood return to Washington for another term.
Whenever Tea Party candidates have challenged the so-called “establishment” Republicans of late the campaign rhetoric has been ugly. However regrettable it may be we’ve been conditioned to accept that as par for the course. But this one took things to new heights, or more appropriately, new lows. After losing the first election Senator Cochran’s campaign heavily recruited Democratic voters to participate in the runoff. Political analysts largely credit their turnout for delivering him the victory. Mississippi’s voting laws permit anyone to vote in either party’s primary (as long as you only vote once) and it’s understandable that Democratic voters decided to participate, knowing that whomever won the primary would most likely win the general. There was nothing illegal about anything Senator Cochran’s campaign did (so far as we know). However, regardless of circumstances, it is troubling for voters of one party to so clearly determine another party’s candidate for a general election. It’s the kind of tactic you only openly resort to when you’re really desperate because it pisses a lot of people off for good reasons.
On the other side of the coin, supporters of Mr. McDaniel have been accused of breaking into the nursing home in which Rose Cochran, Senator Cochran’s wife, has lived with dementia for some time. Their plan was to take pictures of her in an effort to embarrass the incumbent, as if dementia in someone’s spouse were something to be ashamed of or even close to fair game to exploit for political ends. The pictures and a video of her later appeared on a pro-McDaniel blog. While the supporters were only loosely connected with Mr. McDaniel’s campaign, it was an outrageous act that understandably drew widespread condemnation from pretty much everywhere.
And then this: Mark Mayfield, a Mississippi Tea Party founder and accused to helping facilitate the exploitation of Mrs. Cochran, committed suicide on June 27th, several days after the runoff.
All accounts (and both sides of the aisle) described Mr. Mayfield as an even-tempered man who was thoroughly decent. This New York Times story provides a much fuller description of him and the circumstances. Despite this and many more detailed reports outsiders, and plenty of insiders too I’m sure, are left wondering what the hell happened. I have zero idea myself, only concern at the rising bitterness, extremism, and seemingly absolute stakes of our political games.