Like a Japanese soldier retreating deep into the Philippine jungle to continue the fight long after the war is over, Mississippi state Sen. Chris McDaniel is still waging a guerilla battle to overturn the results of last month's Republican Senate runoff. But while the rest of the world acknowledges that the election situation has developed not necessarily to McDaniel's advantage, his supporters want him to keep at it, according to a new poll from PPP.
Fully 81 percent of McDaniel backers, who are furious that black Democrats crossed over to support Sen. Thad Cochran, think he rightfully won the runoff, while just 10 percent accept Cochran's victory. And 63 percent say he should forge ahead with his legal challenges, while just 28 percent say he should concede.
But this stubbornness has come with a hefty price. Just 29 percent of Mississippians now view McDaniel favorably while a majority—53 percent—see him negatively. And if somehow he were actually to prevail in getting the election's outcome reversed, McDaniel would start off trailing Democrat Travis Childers by a single point, 37 to 36.
Yet even back in reality, where Cochran and Childers will square off in the fall, the McDanielites are nevertheless having an impact. Cochran currently beats Childers 40 to 24, a very strange spread indeed, considering Cochran led 50-33 in PPP's last poll back in November. So angry are McDaniel's supporters that Cochran is earning just 48 percent of the Republican vote. That's down from 74 percent last time, all because a large fraction of McDaniel supporters are too pissed to even say they'll back the GOP nominee.
At the same time, many of the Democrats who sided with Cochran in the runoff are staying with him. Childers' advantage among members of his own party has shrunk to just 46-31, compared to his earlier 61-25 lead. That explains why his share of the total vote has shriveled up—but of course, so has Cochran's, leading to a massive 31 percent who say they're undecided.
So what'll happen to that gang of livid holdouts? In a normal world, you'd expect them to come home and grumpily vote for the Republican, just like they ordinarily would. But we're in anything but a normal world here. The depth of conservative furor at what happened in the runoff is hard to overstate. What they believe happened pushes so many of their buttons, stirring up long-held racial animus, resentment at a corrupt Washington establishment, and, of course, fears of "voter fraud." Consider it a tea-fueled trifecta of right-wing disgust.
But even if the McDanielistas remain in the wilderness, fighting their Lost Cause until the last man, Cochran's successfully reinvented himself as a friend of black Democrats in Mississippi. As improbable as that development's been, if he can avoid alienating this newest constituency, Cochran should be able to keep Childers at bay. This has been as bizarre a race as it's possible to imagine, though, so further surprises may yet be in store. And watch out for any Hiroo Onodas lurking on the bayou.