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Sen. Roger Wicker blasts conservative groups for spending millions against Thad Cochran

Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.). (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

Updated 5:10 p.m.

Mississippi’s junior senator and other GOP senators defended Sen. Thad Cochran's win in the Mississippi Republican Senate runoff Tuesday night, saying that the strategy helped broaden the party's appeal.

Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), a longtime Magnolia State lawmaker, also blasted outside conservative groups for spending so much money to back state Sen. Chris McDaniel's primary and runoff challenge to Cochran, suggesting that the money could have been spent in other states with closer Senate races.

McDaniel focused much of his Election Night remarks on the Cochran campaign's efforts to get Democrats — especially black voters — to come out and vote for him in the run-off. He blasted Cochran — without naming him — for "once again compromising, once again reaching against the aisle."

Wicker shot back Wednesday afternoon.

“Going out and broadening the base of the party asking more Mississippians to participate in the ballot that was going to determine the next senator? No, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that," he said when asked whether Cochran's overt appeal to minority and Democratic voters was a bad move.

Wicker noted that 90 percent of eligible voters in his state hadn't voted in the primary, so both campaigns sought to increase their support. "Chris grew his vote, Thad grew his vote. You look at the pool and start looking at eligible citizens. I am thrilled that we broadened the base. I am thrilled that both candidates increased their vote in a runoff – unheard of," he added.

Asked about McDaniel's decision not to formally concede the race, Wicker would only say, "I made it clear early on that I was going to endorse and support the winner. Sen. Cochran made it clear that he was going to support Sen. McDaniel if he won. We’ve got some healing to do," he said.

But Wicker also knocked McDaniel and outside conservative groups that spent money to bolster his chances. "Why did Republicans spend $17 million against Republicans when there’s so many general elections where that money could really really help? We may have a dramatic sweep in November, but I don’t think so – like in 2006,when the Democrats won the Senate from us, it was hand-to-hand combat in several close races and they came down to the wire. I think the very same thing might happen for Republicans in November and that $17 million could come in real handy in Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana, North Carolina, West Virginia, New Hampshire, Colorado – I could go on. I’m mystified that the powers that be at some point felt that that was a good expenditure of scarce campaign resources."

Other Republican senators also defended Cochran's win Wednesday.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who campaigned in the closing days for Cochran, called the win "important." But he added, "Anybody who underestimates the influence of the tea party and their power in the Republican Party is making a mistake. It's not the end of them. You had a string of victories, and some tea party candidates have had some losses. As long as our Republicans are frustrated by the lack of progress here in Washington, that's going to continue to be manifested."

Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) suggested that Mississippi Republicans "have an appreciation for tested candidates that maybe we didn't have for a couple of cycles. And those tested candidates still have to make the case as to why they're the best person for this job. In Kentucky and Mississippi and a lot of other campaigns across the country, House and Senate, you've seen a similar kind of result."

Asked about Cochran's appeal to Democrats, Blunt said: "I think that politicians asking people who are qualified to vote for them to vote for them is not an unusual step for a politician to take."

Ed O’Keefe is covering the 2016 presidential campaign, with a focus on Jeb Bush and other Republican candidates. He's covered presidential and congressional politics since 2008. Off the trail, he's covered Capitol Hill, federal agencies and the federal workforce, and spent a brief time covering the war in Iraq.

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