ACROSS MISSISSIPPI — Election officials report heavy absentee voting leading into Tuesday’s Republican primary runoff for U.S. Senate, an indication of high interest in the intensely fought race between six-term Sen. Thad Cochran and tea party-backed challenger, state Sen. Chris McDaniel.
The candidates’ campaigns and independent groups have spent millions of dollars on a steady flow of TV ads.
Groups that advocate limited government, such as Club for Growth and FreedomWorks, are backing McDaniel and see the Mississippi race as their best chance to unseat a long-serving Republican senator this year. Cochran, a former Appropriations Committee chairman, is campaigning on the slogan “more for Mississippi” and talking about federal money he has brought the state for disaster relief, agriculture, research and military bases.
Both candidates campaigned in the northern part of the state yesterday and are scheduled to head south today.
“You still hold in you the potential to fight, the potential to stand your ground,” McDaniel, 41, said Saturday at a Tea Party Express rally in Tupelo. “You believe what the founders believed, that self-government is inherited, it’s yours for life, that the Constitution matters, that we’re resilient individualists that can fight for ourselves. We don’t need a government a thousand miles away to tell us what to do.”
Cochran voted by absentee ballot Saturday morning in Oxford and spoke to potential voters in in Batesville, Vardaman, Amory, Aberdeen and Tupelo. He was joined at some stops by Mississippi’s other Republican U.S. senator, Roger Wicker. Before heading to a four-county fish fry in Corinth, Cochran said he is trying to appeal to a broad cross-section of voters because he believes he would be helped by a big turnout Tuesday.
“I think we’re going to have opportunities to influence spending decisions…to keep the government moving toward more savings, more jobs and a higher standard of living. Those are the benefits that flow from that,” Cochran, 76, told The Associated Press.
With 318,902 votes cast in a three-person race June 3, McDaniel received 1,418 votes more than Cochran, but neither had the majority required to win.
Noon Saturday was the deadline for in-person absentee voting for the runoff and mail-in absentee ballots must be returned by 5 p.m. Monday.
Several Republican counties reported an increase in absentee voting for the runoff compared to the June 3 primary — a reverse of the typical drop-off between a primary and a runoff. Among those reporting an increase are DeSoto and Lee counties in the north, Madison and Rankin in central Mississippi and Jackson County on the coast.
Absentee voting is also heavy near the candidates’ homes. Cochran lives in Lafayette County and McDaniel in Jones County.
“I’ve been here for 27 years and usually, these little elections, we just breeze right through them. We working our buns off now,” Lafayette County Circuit Clerk Baretta Mosely said Saturday.