Thad Cochran’s Senate friends are trying really hard to save him

There are only five days left until Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran and Chris McDaniel face off one final time. The latest polls are close, and allies on both sides of the race are spending gobs of money in hopes that it could tilt the results, if only by tenths of a percentage point.


Sen. Thad Cochran (R- Miss.) talks to reporters while touring the Elizabeth Harkins Hall nursing building on the University of Southern Mississippi campus during a campaign stop in Hattiesburg, Miss., Tuesday, June 10, 2014. Cochran will face state Sen. Chris McDaniel in a primary runoff on June 24. (AP Photo/Hattiesburg American, Kelly Price)

One of the groups funneling money into the race? Cochran's fellow officemates, who gave just more than $100,000 to his campaign through their leadership committees between June 3 and 13, according to the Cochran campaign's 48-hour reports from that time period.

In the campaign's final moments, they have stepped in to save one of their own. Part of it is that he's their colleague, and that's just what you do. Another part is that they are allowed to give a maximum donation to Cochran again in the runoff.

But the other part is that the last thing incumbents in Congress want is for potential tea party challengers to be emboldened by McDaniel's success. And thus a fountain of funds rushes from leadership PACs everywhere to Cochran's bank account.

On June 10, the National Republican Senatorial Committee held a fundraiser for Cochran -- which was likely the origin for many of Cochran's congressional donations. The event raised  $820,000, according to Roll Call. The e-mail announcing the fundraiser, signed by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), said, "We have been in this situation before and all of us know well from experience, this is no time to sit on the sidelines."

Many of the people who donated to Cochran in the past two weeks do empathize with Cochran a little more than they'd like.

There is McConnell, who threw the NRSC fundraiser and just defeated a tea party challenger himself. His leadership PAC, Bluegrass Committee, gave $5,000 to Cochran.

In 2010, Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski lost her Republican primary. She managed to beat her challenger in the general with a longshot write-in campaign. Her leadership PAC, Denali PAC, gave $5,000 to Cochran.

Murkowski, Texas Sen. John Cornyn and Maine Sen. Susan Collins celebrated with Wyoming Sen. Mike Enzi after he found out Liz Cheney was dropping out of his state's Republican Senate primary this year. All gave to Cochran, and all have faced primary challengers from the right.

South Carolina Sen. Lindsey O. Graham, who turned aside a tea party challenger last week, gave $2,500 to Cochran through his leadership PAC.

In 2012, Utah Sen. Orrin G. Hatch beat a tea party challenger. Orrin PAC gave $5,000 to Cochran during the run-off.

Georgia Sen. Saxby Chambliss decided to retire this year. If he had run, he likely would have faced a bruising primary. Retiring Nebraska Sen. Mike Johanns made a similar calculation. Their PACs donated money to Cochran.

This August, Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander will face a tea party challenger. Likely hoping to keep the establishment trend going before his primary arrives, his PAC gave $5,000 to Cochran.

North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr ($5,000), New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte ($10,000), Georgia Sen. Johnny Isakson ($5,000), Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran ($5,000), Mississippi Rep. Gregg Harper ($5,000), Iowa Sen. Charles E. Grassley ($5,000), Alabama Sen. Richard C. Shelby ($5,000). Indiana Sen. Dan Coats ($5,000) and Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso ($5,000) all gave money to Cochran in the past two weeks as well. Even Thad Cochran's own leadership PAC gave Thad Cochran a boost of $5,000.

As the Cochran campaign continues to file FEC reports, more senators and House members could join the list.

These small donations might not make or break Cochran's chances at the polls, but they matter a whole lot symbolically. Note to future tea-party challengers: your opponent's friends in Congress likely want to end you as much as your opponent does. A wave of tea-party victories is not good for their office feng shui.

Missing from Cochran's recent donations are most of his colleagues who perfected the Chris McDaniel method of reaching Congress before he even thought about running for the Senate. Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) have all kept their powder dry.

Indeed, conservative senators looking toward 2016 -- read: Cruz and Paul -- have stayed 10 paces away from the race, not wanting to announce any allegiances until they figure out what national Republican voters want in a candidate. They are less worried about a challenger poaching their current job than with angering potential primary voters elsewhere.

Rubio told Politico, “I think in that race, I think either of the candidates would be great.”

A few outside groups loyal to Cochran have been spending big too. The Chamber of Commerce has spent $500,000 on ads supporting the incumbent in the past week. Main Street Advocacy has spent $100,000 on field work for Cochran in the past two days. Mississippi Conservatives, a super PAC that received $250,000 from Michael Bloomberg and Sean Parker (better known as Justin Timberlake in The Social Network) shortly before round one of the senate primary, has spent nearly $19,000 against McDaniel in the past week.

However, money can only do so much (Exhibits A through Z: Eric Cantor). The polls are still close, and there is only so much money you can spend in three weeks. And, although Cochran has been raising far more than McDaniel throughout the race, tea party outside spenders have also been pummeling the state with ads. In the runoff alone, the conservative Club for Growth has spent $618,301 for McDaniel. The Senate Conservatives Fund has spent nearly $42,000 for him in the past two weeks. Similarly, Citizens United has spent nearly $111,000 on McDaniel in the past two days.

Whoever wins next Tuesday, it could be by a hair or less. If Cochran wins, they'd likely appreciate a bit of the credit. If he loses, you can't say they didn't try.

Whatever happens, however, they'd like tea party challengers everywhere to know that they are watching you, and will try their hardest to make your appearance in the political spotlight as brief as possible. It's not personal; it's just self-preservation.

Jaime Fuller reports on national politics for "The Fix" and Post Politics. She worked previously as an associate editor at the American Prospect, a political magazine based in Washington, D.C.
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