ACROSS MISSISSIPPI — The 2014 political spending spree continues, but it’s not exactly a bargain for investors.
Mississippi’s Republican Senate primary between six-term incumbent Thad Cochran and challenger Chris McDaniel attracted massive sums of campaign cash that could come to more than $40 per vote amid low primary turnout in the relatively small state.
That’s at least a third more than the $29 per vote spent on a high-profile Republican Senate primary in Georgia last month, and it more than doubles the 2012 presidential election cost of $17.27 per general election ballot.
Going into yesterday’s voting, the total spending in Mississippi exceeded $12.4 million. With 99 percent of precincts reporting, it appeared the total ballot count would fall short of 300,000.
That would mean a per-vote rate no cheaper than $41. It comes to about $4.14 for each of Mississippi’s 3 million residents.
As a comparison, the 2012 presidential contest between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney cost $7.13 per U.S. resident.
That Georgia race involved five major candidates. In Mississippi, Cochran and McDaniel are the only major players, but the race is a national proxy war between tea party conservatives backing McDaniel and tea party conservatives backing Cochran. McDaniel hails from the unofficial tea party caucus of the Mississippi Legislature. Cochran is the former Senate Appropriations chairman who likes to remind voters how much federal largesse he’s brought back home during his 41 years on Capitol Hill, more than 35 of it in the Senate.
By the time polls opened in Mississippi, third-party groups — the Super PACs that spend money independent of the campaigns — had pumped about $8.4 million into the race — $7 million of it on television advertising. That’s on top of $3 million spent by Cochran’s campaign and $1 million from McDaniel.
According to Federal Election Commission records, only Senate races in Massachusetts (with more than 6.5 million residents and an expensive media market in Boston) and North Carolina (about 9.5 million residents) have attracted more independent spending than the Cochran-McDaniel race.
The list in Mississippi is a Who’s Who of the national battle lines between the tea party and traditional Washington powers.
Club for Growth was the biggest spender, pumping in at least $2.24 million — $1.17 per registered voter — on McDaniel’s behalf. He also got more than $1 million from the Senate Conservatives Fund and its political action committee, $650,000 from Tea Party Patriots and a combined $570,000 from FreedomWorks and Citizens United.
Cochran’s largest benefactor was the “Mississippi Conservatives” SuperPAC started especially for his tough re-election battle. Run by Henry Barbour, the nephew of former national GOP chairman and two-term Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, the PAC spent more than $1.6 million. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which is spending millions nationally fighting tea party candidates, chipped in $500,000 for an ad opposing McDaniel.
The race wasn’t all big spenders, though.
The Human Society reported four separate expenditures of staff time on Cochran’s behalf. The grand total came to $99.67 — or about a penny for every 300 Mississippi residents.