Mississippi Republican, Thad Cochran, Relying on Blacks to Rescue him in GOP Primary

Senator Thad Cochran, Republican of Mississippi, made a campaign stop at a cafe in Jackson. (Credit: William Widmer for The New York Times)
Senator Thad Cochran, Republican of Mississippi, made a campaign stop at a cafe in Jackson. (Credit: William Widmer for The New York Times)

Bishop Ronnie C. Crudup stood before roughly a dozen of his colleagues at a weekly Baptist fellowship meeting last week and asked for their help in a fight that, until now, would have been unthinkable for a black pastor in Mississippi: “Let’s send Senator Thad Cochran back to Washington,” he urged.

That Senator Cochran is a Republican and African-Americans here are overwhelmingly Democratic did not go unmentioned. But, Mr. Crudup noted with a wry smile, “in tough times, you’ve got to do some unusual things.”

And if that meant supporting Mr. Cochran against State Senator Chris McDaniel in a Republican runoff on Tuesday, it was worth the risk. Mr. Cochran had helped Mississippi’s blacks during his six terms, Mr. Crudup said, and it was now time to repay him with their support in the political fight of his life, especially against an opponent who was known to have made racially insensitive remarks when he was a talk-show host.

“You’ve got to be willing to cross the line sometimes, and go over to some strange places for our interests,” said Mr. Crudup, the senior pastor at New Horizon Church International.

It is a remarkable political science experiment, and it also may be the only path to victory left to Mr. Cochran. But after being narrowly edged out by Mr. McDaniel, 41, in the Republican primary earlier this month, Mr. Cochran, 76, needs to expand the number of voters who will show up for the runoff, which is open to any Mississippi resident who did not vote in the Democratic primary. The winner on Tuesday will face former Representative Travis Childers, a conservative Democrat, in November.

“We’ve got efforts reaching out to black voters in Mississippi who want to vote for Thad because they like what Thad is for,” said Austin Barbour, a Cochran campaign adviser. “Thad Cochran is someone who, even with his conservative message, represents all of Mississippi. He’s not some hostile screamer.”

But to many, the outreach seems like a long shot. Asked whether he could ever have imagined the possibility that African-Americans could play a defining role in a Republican race in a state where the two political parties are divided by race, Representative Bennie Thompson shook his head in disbelief. “If someone had told me that it would, I’d tell them they were on something,” said Mr. Thompson, a Democrat and Mississippi’s sole black member of Congress.

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The New York Times

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