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Cochran wins Warren, trails statewide as tally continues

Published 11:13 am Wednesday, June 4, 2014

U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran counted Warren County among his victories in a tight race that was too close to call late Tuesday.

Unofficial returns from the county’s 22 polling places showed the six-term senator with 2,328 votes to 1,964 for state Sen. Chris McDaniel. The challenger’s strong support from tea party groups inside and outside the state appeared to give him a slight lead statewide. With 99.5 percent of the state’s 1,832 precincts reporting, McDaniel had about 49.6 percent of the vote to Cochran’s 48.9 percent. A candidate must have 50 percent plus one vote to win. Thomas Carey, a Realtor from Hernando who ran a low-budget campaign, had 1.55 percent.

If Carey’s percentage holds today, a runoff would be held June 24.

The GOP winner faces former congressman Travis Childers, who breezed to victory statewide in the Democratic primary. Childers received about 60 percent of the vote in Warren County and 74 percent statewide.

Culkin precinct, where the largest chunk of Warren County’s traditionally Republican voters live, provided the biggest clue on the longtime incumbent’s struggle for another term. Cochran won the poll vote by two votes — 502-500 — out of 1,106 ballots cast.

Cochran made up for the virtual dead heat with victories inside Vicksburg city limits where a high number of Republican ballots were cast in normally Democratic strongholds. At Vicksburg Junior High School precinct, unofficial returns showed 169 ballots cast in the GOP Senate primary compared to 161 in the Democratic Senate primary.

One black group of Cochran supporters, “All Citizens for Mississippi,” advertised in two black newspapers and handed out flyers in the race’s final days as they appealed to traditionally Democratic voters to extend his career.

Mayor George Flaggs Jr., a black Democrat who served for 26 years in the state Legislature, told The Associated Press he was supporting the white, Republican incumbent. He said the senator has secured federal funding for a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers research station in his city, adding, “It is incumbent for me to vote for Thad.”

At his campaign party in Hattiesburg late Tuesday, McDaniel, 41, told cheering supporters: “Whether it’s tomorrow or three weeks from tonight, we will stand victorious in this race.”

Cochran, 76, did not speak at his party in Jackson. U.S. Rep. Gregg Harper, who campaigned for Cochran, told the crowd there that the race appeared headed to a runoff.

“When it comes to the future of our state, Thad Cochran is the future,” Harper said.

At Warren County Courthouse, the process of tallying votes was again a drawn-out affair, in which local Democratic and Republican party officials cited missteps by poll workers that kept them and election officials in the courthouse past midnight.

The first electronic ballot cards weren’t tallied for more than an hour after polls closed at 7 p.m. Contract election commission workers Jim Moore and Donald Oakes visited Moose Lodge and Brunswick precincts to speed up the electronic transfer of votes from ballot cards used by voters onto a second set of similar cards used for final processing. The cards, which resemble the old 3.5-inch floppy disks from the generation of PC’s of about a decade ago, didn’t appear with absentee and affidavit ballots from American Legion, 3-61 and Tingleville until several hours passed. Officials had to call managers with the Tingleville precinct to have the Church of God on Gibson Road reopened so the card could be located.

“People don’t want the responsibility of totaling the cards,” said John Shorter, head of the Warren County Democratic Executive Committee. “They want the other jobs, like bailiff and just doing the books.”

At Culkin, three machines weren’t used at all — which made the central vote-processing unit take a bit longer to tally the poll vote.

“I don’t know how many times they’ve been told not to do that,” Oakes said.

Absentee ballots — which could swing the Republican primary for Senate here and other places in the state — were expected to be counted by party officials today. They had arrived at the circuit clerk’s office without scannable bar codes. The situation was a repeat of the 2011 state/county election cycle, when the office failed to enter the county’s voters into the statewide election management system in enough time to receive them.

“We’re having to wait on all this to get it done,” said Eric Biedenharn, head of the Warren County Republican Executive Committee, adding the pool of poll workers contained a lot of “new people.”

The Senate primary wasn’t the only close race in Mississippi.

Rep. Steven Palazzo hovered around 50 percent in a five-way contest in Mississippi. Trailing close behind was former Rep. Gene Taylor, a Democrat seeking a comeback after switching parties.

New voter identification laws were in effect in Mississippi, although there were no difficulties immediately reported.

Congressmen Bennie Thompson and Gregg Harper cruised to victory in primaries.

Thompson, a Democrat from Bolton, won his nomination in the 2nd District, which includes Vicksburg. Thompson will face independent Troy Ray and the Reform Party’s Shelley Shoemake on Nov. 4.

Harper, from Pearl, won the Republican primary in the 3rd District. Independent Roger Gerrard and Reform Party candidate Barbara Dale Washer will meet Harper and Democratic nominee Douglas MacArthur Magee, a lawyer from Mendenhall, in the general election.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.