Playing by the Rules

The Republican senate primary runoff in Mississippi added another chapter to the drama between the tea party and the establishment Republican Party. State Senator Chris McDaniel’s challenge of incumbent Senator Thad Cochran fell short in a vote of 50.8 percent to 49.2 percent, with a difference of only about 6,300 votes in an election where more than 375,000 people voted.

After finishing second in the original primary election on June 3 by one half of a percent, or about 1,500 votes, the Cochran campaign needed to come up with a plan for how they would make up the deficit in the runoff. They did precisely that.

Targeting Democratic voters, particularly minorities, Cochran reached out to remind them that the Mississippi primary was open — which means that even registered Democrats could vote for the Republicans.

The plan worked to perfection. As almost every political analyst has pointed out, Cochran’s win was due to his increased numbers in Democratic counties. His leads in precincts that were won by Obama in 2012 were too much for McDaniel to overcome with his wins in precincts won by Romney.

McDaniel and his supporters are upset. The feeling that it was Democrats who ultimately decided the Republican primary seems to be too much for them to swallow. McDaniel himself refused to concede the race, and spoke openly when addressing his supporters on election night of mounting a legal challenge in hopes of overturning the results.

But McDaniel isn’t the first Republican this season to blame his defeat on a surge of Democratic voters. In Virginia’s 7th congressional district, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor lost his primary to newcomer David Brat. Virginia, like Mississippi, allows anyone to vote in whichever primary they choose, regardless of party affiliation.

But Cantor did not react the same way McDaniel did. He accepted the result and moved on, even actively lending support to Brat’s campaign. As Brat told The Washington Examiner yesterday, “Eric has been supportive in private and in public.”

That is the correct way to act in response, because those are the rules of the game. If a state allows crossover voters, it’s fair for a campaign to target them.