Washington: A longtime Mississippi senator narrowly defeated a rival backed by the small-government tea  party movement in a bruising, costly Republican runoff, a major win for mainstream Republicans two weeks after they were stunned by the defeat of a top party leader.

Sen Thad Cochran’s victory yesterday the marquee race on a day when votes were held in seven states was the first big test for the party establishment since the No 2 Republican in the House of Representatives, Eric Cantor, lost two weeks ago to a little-known college professor loosely associated with the tea party.

Cochran defeated state legislator Chris McDaniel, who collected more votes than Cochran in the original June 3 primary, but was short of the 50 per cent needed to avoid the runoff. With 99 per cent of precincts reporting yesterday,Cochran led with 51 per cent to McDaniel’s 49 per cent.

Cochran’s victory continues a streak of triumphs by mainstream Republican senators over tea party challengers.

That has been crucial to Republican hopes for winning control of the Senate in the November general election.

In the two previous elections, tea party candidates defeated more mainstream Republicans in primaries, only to lose toDemocrats after being perceived as too radical or unstable.

Mississippi is solidly Republican and probably would have remained in Republican hands even if McDaniel had won. Still, Cochran’s victory is likely to comfort mainstream Republicans shaken by Cantor’s defeat.

The race reflected the sharp divisions in Republican ranks, pitting Washington clout against insistence on conservative purity.

In a brief speech to supporters, Cochran thanked those who helped him secure a “great victory. … It’s a group effort. It’s not a solo. And so we all have a right to be proud of our state tonight.”

A defiant McDaniel offered no explicit concession, but instead complained of “dozens of irregularities” that he implied were due to Cochran courting Democrats and independents.

“We are not prone to surrender, we Mississippians,” McDaniel told his backers. “Before this race is over we have to be absolutely certain the Republican primary was won by Republican voters.”

Free Press Journal

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