Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) makes me feel even better about being a Republican today. His runoff campaign for the U.S. Senate seat he has held for 36 years accomplished something I don’t remember previously seeing in my lifetime. That is, a Republican in a Dixie state asked for and received black votes in a Republican primary — and those votes made a difference. His opponent, a wannabe modern version of a Southern demagogue who would have been a living scar on the Republican Party if he had won, played the race card to try and rile up white voters and intimidate African Americans, using language and tactics right out of the 1950s.
But Cochran prevailed. And there are many lessons to be learned.
First, Cochran’s win reassures us that there is still a place for a kinder-gentler style in politics. It is said that Cochran is the last true Southern gentleman in Congress. Well, maybe his victory will inspire others. The good guys can still win.
Next, the significance of Cochran making a direct appeal to black voters and winning their support cannot be overstated. Cochran has typically received 25 to 35 percent of the black vote in general elections, but this was a GOP primary. This should serve as an inspiration and a lesson for GOP campaigns everywhere. If it can happen in Mississippi, it can happen anywhere. Maybe it was a unique combination of Cochran’s record, style and a whack-job opponent, but it did happen. I’ve thought for decades that by any measure, African Americans should fire their political leadership and make the parties compete for their votes. The fact that it hasn’t happened is inexplicable to me. Anyway, maybe this is the beginning.
Finally, Cochran’s victory is so good for the Republican cause in part because losing to state Sen. Chris McDaniel would have been so bad. McDaniel would have been the liberal media’s favorite Republican. A hot-headed Mississippi senator with a history of using racist stereotypes and who used race-baiting tactics to win? The New York Times would probably have run a feature story on McDaniel every week.
Now that Cochran has won his primary with the support of black voters, he has all the more reason to listen and reach out to African Americans. His victory is a great gift to the Republican Party, and I hope it is a gift that keeps on giving.
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