WASHINGTON — Republicans reacted Wednesday to Sen. Thad Cochran’s victory-by-inches in a primary runoff in Mississippi with a mix of views that reflected the sharp divide between the party’s establishment and Tea Party wings.
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, a prominent voice of the Tea Party movement, said that despite the loss Tuesday by state Sen. Chris McDaniel, the Tea Party-aligned challenger to Mr. Cochran, he was struck by how close the race was and by the great effort that establishment Republicans took to beat an upstart candidate.
“You saw the Washington Republican establishment put millions of dollars into that race to preserve an incumbent,” Mr. Cruz said Wednesday on Fox News, “and they encouraged an awful lot of Democrats to vote in that race, and won a razor-thin race. I think that demonstrates that there’s a lot of hunger for change.”
But Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who just fought off a primary challenge of his own from several opponents to his right, called the campaign against Mr. Cochran a misguided “purification effort” that was only hurting the GOP.
“You add up all the money we spent on this intraparty fight, that’s a lot of resources we could have had to pick up the seats necessary to get a majority,” Mr. Graham said Wednesday. “Thad Cochran, like any of us, I’m sure, is not a perfect senator. But really, is he the problem compared to our Democratic colleagues?”
Mr. McDaniel has not conceded the race, but there were signs that some of his strongest backers were moving on.
“We are proud of the effort we made in Mississippi’s Senate race, and we congratulate the winner,” Chris Chocola, president of the Club for Growth, the anti-tax group that spent more than $3 million to support Mr. McDaniel, said in a written statement. “We expect that Sen. Cochran and others gained a new appreciation of voter frustration about the threats to economic freedom and national solvency.”
Some of the national Tea Party groups that poured money into Mr. McDaniel’s campaign were so angry that they were considering drastic options to keep their candidate afloat politically. According to one person involved in the discussions among leaders of these groups, the possibilities include trying to build support for a third-party run by Mr. McDaniel — a move that would almost certainly draw Republican votes away from Mr. Cochran and help his Democratic challenger, Travis Childers.
In addition, some Tea Party leaders were discussing throwing their weight behind Mr. Childers. Though he is a Democrat, some of his views — he is anti-abortion and opposes the Affordable Care Act — are attractive to conservatives. “The Tea Party is so burned, they may do something radical,” a conservative leader involved in the planning said, asking not to be named in order to discuss internal deliberations.
Some Tea Party supporters were pushing for Mr. McDaniel to wage a write-in campaign in the general election.
Wayne Allyn Root, a libertarian commentator and onetime third-party candidate for vice president who is aligned with the Tea Party, wrote on Twitter that if Mr. McDaniel campaigned as a write-in candidate, “I’ll be in Mississippi campaigning by my friend’s side. Take Cochran down in general election.”
But Austin Barbour, a campaign adviser to Mr. Cochran, said Mr. McDaniel had run out of options. Mr. Barbour said a write-in campaign would be illegal under Mississippi law — the ballots would be thrown out — and that Mr. McDaniel had missed the deadline to get on the ballot as an independent.
Other Tea Party statements maintained the bitter tone that characterized Mr. McDaniel’s speech after the polls closed Tuesday night. “In Mississippi, nefarious campaign tactics seem to have won the day over ideas and a bold conservative vision,” Taylor Budowich, executive director of the Tea Party Express, said in an emailed statement. “We thank Sen. Chris McDaniel for courageously standing up to the political machine. In politics, the righteous are not always victorious.”
Mr. Cochran’s supporters expressed relief. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who campaigned with Mr. Cochran in Mississippi in the final days of the race, said that while Mr. McDaniel had raised alarms among establishment Republicans, he was pleased that the challenge was beaten back. “A defeat for Thad Cochran would have reverberated a heck of a lot more,” Mr. McCain told reporters Wednesday at a breakfast hosted by The Wall Street Journal.
He said the “flooding into that state” of Tea Party advocates at the grass-roots level was only the latest of a series of warnings to the Republican center. “I’m not sure the Tea Party has peaked,” he said. “You cannot underestimate the anti-Washington feeling, which translates into anti-incumbency, and it’s out there and it’s viable, and any politician or elected official who has been in this town for any length of time, as I have, you’d better be aware of that anti-incumbency sentiment, even if they like you.”United States - North America - U.S. Republican Party - John McCain - Ted Cruz - Mississippi - Lindsey Graham - Thad Cochran - Travis Childers