On Tuesday night, a remarkable thing happened.
Principled underdog challenger Chris McDaniel finished ahead of 40-year Sen. Thad Cochran, forcing him into a runoff on June 24. This kind of Senate primary upset has only happened twice since the inception of the tea party movement in 2009, once in Utah (2010) and in Indiana (2012).
While McDaniel’s principled message of limited government certainly contributed towards his success, a runoff would not have been possible without the dedicated ground game of grassroots activists across the state. Thousands of enthusiastic volunteers knocked on over 100,000 doors, put up over 40,000 yard signs, and organized over 100 grassroots events in the run-up to the primary.
These unrelenting efforts are what pushed McDaniel into the lead to overcome the entrenched establishment political machine. And now, that same network of volunteers will push Chris McDaniel forward to a runoff victory and into November’s general election.
Low-turnout runoff elections are advantageous to the challenger, often backed by a motivated grassroots base that will show up when it matters. We saw this scene unfold in 2012, when longshot candidate Ted Cruz forced David Dewhurst into a runoff with 34.2 percent of the vote to Dewhurst’s 44.6 percent.
In the runoff, grassroots-backed Cruz stormed to victory with 56.8 percent of the vote to Dewhurst’s 43.2 percent. More recently, incumbent Rep. Ralph Hall finished first in his Texas primary by 17 percentage points, then lost to challenger John Ratcliffe in the runoff because he had an inferior ground game.
Something’s happening in here. We are in the middle of a paradigm shift affecting the way politics works. Establishment moderates are running on the issues of the liberty movement. Complacency in Washington is no longer inevitable. Incumbents are no longer entitled to their seats. Grassroots America is taking its seat back at the table.
[sharequote align=”center”]Incumbents are no longer entitled to their seats. Grassroots America is taking its seat back.[/sharequote]
We went into this race knowing that the odds were stacked against us—that we were going to be outspent. Challenging the power of incumbency in the Senate is daunting, and not easily overcome.
But even the Cochran camp is beginning to realize the new realities of modern political organizing. Campaign consultant Henry Barbour recently told reporters that Team Thad needs to “rethink” its message and begin to “organize from the ground up.”
If Thad Cochran is just now building up his ground game, he’s already losing. His decision not to show up to speak to supporters on election night was certainly a bad start.
In the best interests of the Republican Party, Thad Cochran should concede the race to Chris McDaniel. This weeks primary proved that Mississippians want new leadership in the Senate, and exposed a serious possibility that Thad Cochran could put the Republican-held Senate seat at risk come November.
A Chris McDaniel runoff victory will send shockwaves to conservatives across the country. It would send a powerful message to activists to double down on their hard work, because if it can happen in Mississippi, it can happen anywhere.
I look forward to watching grassroots America beat Washington on June 24.
Matt Kibbe is the President of FreedomWorks for America and author of the New York Times bestseller, “Don’t Hurt People and Don’t Take Their Stuff.” Follow Matt on Twitter @MKibbe
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