It is now becoming apparent that Senator Thad Cochran and his supporters used political savvy to rally some Democratic voters to come out and vote for him, last Tuesday. We like to think our politics are pure, that any movement for a candidate is grassroots, driven by a concerned citizenry wanting to ensure they are represented by someone who will listen to their requests and act, someone who will take care of their needs.
We know the reality is more complex, that the most successful campaigns employ algorithm-driven get-out-the-vote tools and techniques (Obama), that they use reverse psychology to face a beatable candidate (McCaskill), and now, that they use direct appeal through operatives with whom they may have nothing in common to save them from certain defeat (Cochran).
According to Jim Galloway, a political columnist for the Atlanta Journal Constitution:
“Late campaign disclosure documents filed in the race show that Mississippi Conservatives, a political action committee run by the son of that state’s former governor, Haley Barbour, paid tens of thousands of dollars to get-out-the-vote artist Mitzi Bickers, an African-American pastor and former president of the Atlanta school board.”
Because it was a PAC that hired Bickers’ consulting firm, the Bickers Group, there is no direct connection to the Cochran campaign, so if her actions, which are believed to be two robo-calls, are the “irregularities” Cochran’s opponent, Chris McDaniel, was referring to in his defiant, non-concession speech, then he has no case against the six-term incumbent.
What the Barbours did, in support of Cochran, was recognize that Republican idealists would vote for McDaniel, but pragmatists would vote for Cochran, and Haley, Henry, et al., are nothing if not political pragmatists.
That hyper-awareness of the facts on the ground is also something red state Democrats might want to consider in particularly tight races, where they actually stand a chance. Tacking to the political center might help you get votes from the center, but it will not help with siphoning votes from the right. You may not necessarily want to be their voice, but you probably need their vote. This opens the campaign on three fronts: assure the partisans that you are with them; assure the middle that you are not an extremist, and; inform the right that it’s better for them and their community if they vote for you. Of course getting all your targeted voters to actually vote is the biggest stumbling block, one that researchers say, if successful, would have resulted in a very different political dynamic in red states, and in Washington, DC.
If Republicans and Democrats have no problem reaching across party lines to campaign, perhaps, then, they would be willing to reach across the aisle more in Congress. Thad Cochran is as socially conservative a senator as they come, but if he gives back to the Mississippi Democrats who helped him hold his seat, by helping where the people in the poorest state in the country need it most, then we may have a new recipe for leadership, from a very old politician.