Schizophrenic Mississippi Polling

Simultaneous polls from two Republican polling firms arrived at very different conclusions in the budding primary challenge to veteran Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS).

Gravis Marketing and the Human Events conservative news website teamed up to survey the Mississippi Republican electorate and found the senator to be in a virtual tie with his GOP challenger, state Sen. Chris McDaniel. According to the data (released Dec. 18; 691 Mississippi Republican voters), both men scored 40 percent on the ballot test.

But a rival GOP survey research firm, Harper Polling (Dec. 17-18; 710 Mississippi Republican and Independent voters), finds a contrasting result. According to HP, the incumbent has a substantial 54-31 percent lead in the one-on-one pairing.

Interestingly, the members of the Human Events/Gravis polling sample that would favor Cochran over a generic Tea Party candidate (45-38 percent) actually give less support for the incumbent when McDaniel’s name is added to a subsequent question. As mentioned above, the sample breaks evenly for both identified men even though McDaniel is the actual Tea Party candidate.

Conversely, the Harper poll showed that the sample identifying favorably with the Tea Party by a margin of 55-29 percent – and which even favored the Republicans’ action in shutting down the government by a whopping 66-24 percent – gives Cochran the larger lead.

Therefore, the more conservative polling sample actually yields better margins for the perceived less conservative incumbent and vice versa.

Though the two surveys provide starkly different results, they do tell us that the McDaniel challenge to Cochran could become a serious one. Even in the large spread, the senator is only in the low 50s before what should be his strong political base, and almost one-third of the respondents willingly express support for the named opponent. This has to be considered a warning signal for any incumbent.

The question remaining unanswered is whether McDaniel can attract enough in the way of financial support to run a competitive campaign against a venerable incumbent, remembering that Sen. Cochran was only the second Republican to win a Deep South seat in the modern political era when he first won back in 1978. The early indications are, however, that he can.

According to the Sept. 30 Federal Election Commission financial disclosure filings, the senator has $803,000 cash on hand, while McDaniel already has the public support of national conservative organizations such as the Club for Growth, Senate Conservatives Fund, Freedom Works and various national and local Tea Party organizations. All of these groups can provide a combination of financial and grassroots support.

Today, six Senate primary challenges to incumbents are forming, five on the Republican side. Aside from the Hawaii Democratic battle involving appointed Sen. Brian Schatz and Rep. Colleen Hanabusa (D-HI-1), it is the Mississippi race that has the underpinnings of more serious competition on the Republican side. The two diverse polls mentioned above, though giving us fundamentally different results, do tell us that this race could soon become real.

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