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No pigeon holes

Jun 25, 2014 - By Steven R. Peck

Primary elections in other states aren't giving a clear picture, but there are lessons

Another primary election, another confounding result for those who would pigeon-hole Republican politics in America.

Some of the same dynamics are playing out in Wyoming -- or soon could.

After House Majority Leader Eric Cantor was defeated unceremoniously in his own GOP primary in Virginia earlier this month by a little-known rookie candidate, it was easy to predict that U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran would meet the same fate in the runoff election in Mississippi to determine the Republican Senate nominee there.

Cochran already had been defeated by tea party challenger Chris McDaniel in the first round of primary voting. A third candidate was eliminated, and Cochran then had to face McDaniel head to head. Cochran is one of the older senators at 76, not a power broker like Eric Cantor was, not a hard charger like so many of today's Washington Republicans, not a Fox News favorite, seen not as a rising star but, rather, a fading flower.

He had been an easy target for McDaniel, who decried Cochran for his old-fashioned, bring-home-the-bacon style of politicking. Rather than celebrate Cochran's record of delivering billions of dollars in federal spending to Mississippi over the past 40 years, McDaniel labeled Cochran as a pork-barrel spender out of touch with the new realities of deficit-drenched Washington.

And, unlike David Brat, the neophyte who stunned Cantor, McDaniel was no penny-ante beginner. He was a well-known state senator with a big war chest. He won endorsements from some big-name Republicans around the country who perched in Mississippi's political branches like vultures, waiting for the genteel old man -- Cochran -- to topple and continue the tea party's resurgence nationally after a couple of years of marking time.

But Cochran won. It was close, but in Tuesday night's runoff against McDaniel, "Smilin' Thad" prevailed by about 1 percentage point.

McDaniel did what many hard-luck campaign losers do after a stinging loss -- blame the voters. There are claims of impropriety, howls that Cochran worked to attract Democrats -- gasp -- to vote for him, and the margin may be close enough to require recount. But the mostly likely outcome is that Cochran won a tight race, and he did it by broadening the voter base from the earlier, three-man field. Turnout was far higher Tuesday.

In Wyoming, including Fremont County, incumbents are being challenged, some by hard-line or idealistic candidates with fervent support from a core group. The Republican gubernatorial primary is one case statewide, and Fremont County also has some commission and legislative races where challengers can take a lesson from both Thad Cochran and Chris McDaniel.

Here it is: If you want to win, you might need to embrace voters outside of your comfort zone. And if you don't win, it's not a good idea to lash out at the voters during your immediate disappointment. Unless you are planning to sit on the sidelines for the rest of your life, you might need those voters again sometime.

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