WASHINGTON, June 3 (UPI) -- Thad Cochran has been the senator from Mississippi since 1979, but his long run could come to an end in a primary fight Tuesday.
Despite a scandal that erupted when supporters of his tea party opponent, state Sen. Chris McDaniel, were arrested and accused of photographing his infirm wife at her nursing home, Cochran has run a lackluster campaign more appropriate for an incumbent coasting to a comfortable victory than one whose polls have shown him neck-and-neck with his challenger.
Complicating matters is realtor Thomas Carey, who has been largely absent from contention in the race but could draw enough votes to force a runoff.
While the most recent polls of the race have been conducted by partisan groups, and therefore have a greater margin of error, neither Cochran nor McDaniel come close to cracking the necessary 50 percent needed to avoid the runoff, which would take place in three weeks.
A left-leaning Chism Strategies poll found McDaniel holding a 46-44 advantage over Cochran, while a right-leaning RRH/PRM survey found Cochran leading McDaniel 42-41. Another Republican poll this month (from Harper) gave Cochran a 5-point edge, while one from the Polling Company found a 4-point advantage for McDaniel.
Political watchers in the state say McDaniel, 41, may benefit most from the runoff, which would give him another few weeks to build on his momentum and show off his age and energy-advantage. Supporters of the incumbent wonder if Cochran, 76, has the stamina to keep up with a candidate barely half his age.
The felony charges against four of McDaniel's supporters seem to have made little impact on the race. McDaniel's campaign has vehemently denied any involvement in the incident, and has even accused Cochran of trying to take political advantage of the incident.