Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran and Tea Party-backed challenger Chris McDaniel pointed toward a possible June 24 run-off after battling to a near-draw yesterday in a primary that underscored Republican differences. Unofficial returns from 98% of the state's precincts showed McDaniel with slightly more than 49% of the vote in a three-way race and Cochran with slightly less. It takes a majority by one candidate to avoid a run-off. The race—arguably the year's last good chance for the Tea Party to topple an establishment favorite in a Senate primary—took a turn for the sensational last month when four McDaniel supporters were arrested and charged with surreptitiously taking photographs of Cochran's 72-year-old wife, who suffers from dementia and has long lived in a nursing home.
The Mississippi contest easily overshadowed races in seven other states, several of which sent GOP establishment-backed candidates into fall campaigns for Senate seats that Republicans have targeted in their drive to gain six seats and a majority:
- State Sen. Joni Ernst overwhelmed her rivals in Iowa, easily surpassing the 35% total needed to win the nomination outright. She will take on Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley this fall for the Senate seat long held by Democrat Tom Harkin.
- In South Dakota, former Gov. Mike Rounds won the Republican nomination and quickly became a favorite to win a seat held by retiring Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson. Rick Weiland is the Democratic candidate in the heavily Republican state.
- And in Montana, appointed Sen. John Walsh, a Democrat, and Republican Rep. Steve Daines won nominations en route to a fall campaign that the GOP is expected to target as an opportunity to gain a seat.
(Read more Election 2014