Mississippi Runoff Could Clinch GOP Control of Senate; Why Tuesday's Primary Race Matters

It’s primary time! (Again!) On Tuesday, voters will head to the polls for the first slate of primaries Eric Cantor’s stunning primary loss earlier in June. As with that race, several of Tuesday’s primaries will feature establishment Republicans going up against more conservative challengers, and in Mississippi’s Senate race, this could well result in another longtime Republican losing his seat to a Tea Party upstart.

There’s one fact that looms large over every discussion of the 2014 primaries: Both parties basically have a 50-50 shot of winning control of the Senate, and as such, every Senate election has the potential to either protect Democrats’ last vestige of power in Congress, or hand Republicans total control over both chambers for the first time since 2006.

That’s why everybody’s been paying so much attention to what’s happening in Mississippi’s Senate race. If you missed the run up, here's what you should know.

Why Mississippi matters

The incumbent, Senator Thad Cochran, is fighting for his political life against Tea Party-backed state senator Chris McDaniel — for the second time. The candidates were forced to enter a runoff after neither gained 50 percent of the vote the first time the primary was held. Most polls indicate that McDaniel will win on Tuesday; if this happens, it will be the first time a Tea Party candidate has knocked off an incumbent senator during this cycle.

ThadforMS on YouTube

And that brings us back to the question of Senate control. Cochran is very conservative; McDaniel is a bit more conservative and a lot more crazy — and Mississippi is a conservative state. Normally, whoever wins the GOP nomination is a shoe-in to become the next senator, but some Democrats believe that their nominee, Travis Childers, could actually defeat McDaniel — but not Cochran — in the general election. If that were to happen, it would approximately the millionth (okay, the sixth) time that the GOP blew a winnable election by nominating a candidate who was too nutty to win.

ThadforMS on YouTube

The race also features a mutated, bizarro version of the national battle over voting rights. Cochran has been courting Democrats to try and give himself the edge, even though a truly stupid Mississippi law forbids people from voting in primaries unless they intend to vote for that party’s nominee in November. Of course, that law is completely unenforceable, but that hasn’t stopped McDaniel’s supporters from pledging to enforce it with poll watchers. Suspicions that they may engage in voter intimidation at polling places has attracted the attention of the Justice Department, which says it’s “monitoring the situation.”

What Would Happen If Republicans Got Control of the Senate?

So, what would happen if the GOP won control of the Senate? Republicans would immediately put forward a bill to repeal all of Obamacare, which President Obama would promptly veto. But Republicans could also pass, over prolonged period of time, smaller bills to incrementally chip away at Obamacare. If they managed to pass any of these on a bipartisan basis (and there is limited Democratic support for certain modifications to Obamacare), and if public opinion remained opposed to the law, it’s not inconceivable that Obama could feel pressured to sign some of them. He is a fan of compromising, after all.

Oh, and the wave of progressive judges that Obama’s been appointing will come to a crashing halt. When Democrats eliminated the filibuster for judicial nominations in 2013, Republicans were outraged at the partial restoration of democracy to the chamber, as it meant they could no longer block Obama’s judicial appointments with a simple minority. Obama, unmoved by the GOP’s dismay, proceeded to appoint a slew of liberal judges, including unabashed feminist Nina Pillard and Diane Humetewa, the first ever female Native American woman to become a federal judge. If Mitch McConnell becomes Majority Leader, you can bet he’ll continue obstructing qualified Obama nominees the way he did before Harry Reid got rid of the filibuster.

The stakes for the country are high, and the odds of the chips falling one way or the other may well hinge on who Republicans elect to run for the Senate in Mississippi. And that’s why that race is important.

Some comic relief

Andrew Burton/Getty Images News/Getty Images

If this is all making you depressed, there’s some escapist delight to be had in the highly-entertaining race for New York’s 13th congressional seat, where longtime incumbent Charlie Rangel is pulling out all of the stops to defeat state Senator Adriano Espaillat in the Democratic primary. The 84-year-old congressman recently hosted a dance party at a local burger shack with Pras (you know, from The Fugees), where he boogied with supporters to Jay-Z and the Jackson 5. More recently, in a half-endearing, half pathetic attempt to win the youth vote, he released an autobiographical trap song. (Unfortunately, he didn’t lend his own vocal stylings to the track.)

rangel4congress on YouTube

Rangel has been in Congress for over 40 years. At a juvenile 59 years old, state Senator Adriano Espaillat is attempting to inject some young blood into the race. He came within a thousand votes of defeating Rangel in 2010, and it looked like he might finish the job this time around. A recent poll showed Rangel ahead, but most local politicos think the election is going to come down to the wire, and nobody is taking a Rangel win for granted.

There are other Senate primaries going down on Tuesday around the country, and who knows — any of them could, in theory, end up playing a decisive role in who controls the Senate. It’s somewhat bizarre that a couple of thousand voters in one state can end up determining the fate of everybody else in the country, but that is indeed how it works. That's what happened when Cantor lost in Virginia last week, and it may well happen again in Mississippi on Tuesday.