WASHINGTON, June 24 (UPI) -- Longtime Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran pulled what amounted to an upset, hanging on to his own Senate seat Tuesday and defeating his tea party challenger, Chris McDaniel, in a primary runoff.
With more than 98 percent of precincts reporting, Cochran has won Tuesday's runoff election, beating McDaniel 50.8 percent to 49.2 percent. Turnout increased by some 55,000 voters over the June 3 primary, an impressive jump in any primary, let alone a single-party runoff.
Until just weeks before the primary, Cochran, 76, had run the relatively relaxed campaign of a front runner, and was caught flat-footed when it became clear he was being outpaced by a competitor barely half his age. Polls on the eve of Tuesday's runoff showed McDaniel opening up an 8-point lead over the incumbent.
Outflanked to the right by McDaniel, who got the support of conservative groups and harnessed anti-Washington sentiment, Cochran spent the weeks between the runoff courting moderates and black Democrats, who are allowed to vote in a Republican primary runoff so long as they did not vote in the primary itself.
McDaniel, a state senator and radio personality, beat Cochran by a few thousand votes in the Republican primary three weeks ago, but failed to reach the 50 percent necessary to avoid a runoff. He appeared to have momentum, as well as structural factors on his side, but Cochran was able to appeal to enough of Democrats to surprise McDaniel.
Cochran will face Democrat Travis Childers in November's general election, but is expected to easily win in the deep red state.