Primary polling has been incredibly accurate during the 2014 cycle (ok, setting aside the Cantor upset). The RealClearPolitics polling average predicted a tie in the first rendition of the Mississippi Senate Primary and that is exactly what happened in round one.
Polling in round two has shown McDaniel building a small edge with leads of six and twelve points in two different polls. Cochran has led by just a single point in two polls.
While run-offs are rare, there is a definite trend of voters droping-off between the first and second stage. The model Chris McDaniel would like to follow is the Ted Cruz-Dave Dewhurst battle, where the drop-off in voters came almost exclusively from the establishment candidate, Dewhurst’s, side. Cruz consolidated all other candidates’ voters and turned a double digit defeat in round one into a double digit victory in round two.
While there is negligible “other candidate” vote to be taken, McDaniel, like Cruz, will benefit from a large enthusiasm gap in his favor.
The big concern for McDaniel is that his stunning turnout and margin of victory in Jones County may be difficult to match. If Jones county reverts to the 2012 Presidential Primary vote total (which is still an impressive turnout feat), McDaniel could lose 2,800 votes even if he still wins 85% of the county vote.
Cochran’s run-off campaign has smacked of desperation as he is actively courting the black vote, a strategy which may yield votes, but may also send some of his tepid supporters to McDaniel. This would be disaster for him as he would need two new votes for every one flipped to McDaniel.
Cochran has also sidled up to unions, which may validate McDaniel’s “RINO”charges in the minds of some voters. As Mississippi does not register voters by party, the run-off is essentially an open primary so Cochran sees Democrats and Independents who did not vote in the Democratic primary as potential new voters. Again, he may be courting them at the expense of some of his June 3 voters.
The final verdict will be decided by turnout. It is possible that McDaniel hit his best shot during the June 3 primary, while Cochran was still getting his act together. The more likely scenario though is that enough Cochran supporters will stay home to push McDaniel over the top. Trusting Democrats to win a Republican primary will not likely be a winning strategy for the incumbent.
The good news for all of us is that June 24 should be a much shorter night than June 3. We will be able quickly analyze turnout and performance changes from three weeks ago and hopefully have a call by 10:00. If 10:00 comes and goes with no call, it means Cochran is performing better than expected.
Prediction: McDaniel by 8