• MS-Sen: It wasn't quite as stunning as Eric Cantor's race, but it was a major shocker nonetheless: Sen. Thad Cochran managed to reverse the results of the June 3 GOP primary and squeeze out a narrow 51-49 win over his tea party-backed challenger, state Sen. Chris McDaniel, in Tuesday night's runoff. The race had turned extremely nasty in its final three weeks, as McDaniel kept up his attack that Cochran wasn't sufficiently conservative, while Cochran doubled down on his support for good old-fashioned pork barrel politics.
But the difference-maker turned out to be black voters. Cochran explicitly courted African Americans, who in Mississippi (as elsewhere) are almost universally Democrats. That risked provoking a backlash among conservative whites, and indeed McDaniel and his supporters tried to stoke this ancient animosity.
Yet Cochran's strategy paid off, with turnout in heavily black counties spiking more than it did in the whiter areas that supported McDaniel. This means that almost all the polling was wrong, and it also means that tea partiers are furious that their guy lost because of Democratic votes.
And you can count McDaniel among that number. He's refusing to concede and has suggested he might wage a legal challenge, claiming there were "dozens of irregularities" in how the vote was conducted. Good luck convincing a court those grapes were already sour. This is simply how politics works, and if Mississippians don't like their open primary system, they're free to change it. Hell, McDaniel himself has served in the legislature for six years. He had a chance to fix things if he'd wanted to.
But while the grumblers grumble, the 76-year-old Cochran will be the heavy favorite over Democrat Travis Childers, who undoubtedly looked far more forward to a general election matchup with McDaniel than with the incumbent. And one thing is even more certain: Political scientists will study this race intensely for a long time, because Cochran's return from the brink of electoral doom is undeniably one for the ages.
P.S. See the end of the Digest for our recap of the rest of Tuesday's primaries.
• AZ-Gov: Citing poor fundraising, state Sen. Al Melvin has dropped out of Arizona's Republican gubernatorial primary. That leaves six others still vying for the nod: state Treasurer Doug Ducey, former Go Daddy executive Christine Jones, former Mesa Mayor Scott Smith, Secretary of State Ken Bennett, former Rep. Frank Riggs (who represented a seat in California), and former Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas. Former Arizona Board of Regents member Fred DuVal is the lone Democrat running. The primary is Aug. 26.
• FL-Gov: WFLA-TV sure seems to love paying for polls, because they've just released their fourth set of numbers from SurveyUSA in the last two months. The changes from poll to poll have mostly been noise, with Republican Gov. Rick Scott and Democrat Charlie Crist trading places every time. Now it's Scott's turn to nose back out front, with a 42-41 edge, compared to a 44-40 Crist lead in early June.
Meanwhile, the Florida Chamber of Commerce (which of course favors Scott) also has a poll of their own, from Cherry Communications. Scott holds a 41-38 advantage, while Libertarian Adrian Wylie takes 4 percent, which is somewhat low compared to the outsize vote shares a lot of Libertarian candidates have been pulling down lately.
Here's one of the challenges that Scott faces in maintaining his lead, though (and, if the trend continues, that future Florida Republicans will face even more acutely). Pew Research takes a look at party preference among Cuban-Americans and finds it's moving remarkably quickly in the Democratic direction thanks to generational change.
In 2002, Cubans split 64 percent Republican and just 22 percent Democratic in voter registration; that changed to 57 R/35 D in 2006 and now just 47 R/44 D in 2013. Those numbers appear to refer to all Cuban-Americans nationwide, but seven of ten Cuban-Americans are in Florida. If you want to see how that translates to actual votes, here's a key example: Al Gore won 53 percent in heavily Hispanic Miami-Dade County in 2000, while Barack Obama got 62 percent there in 2012. (David Nir & David Jarman)
• NE-Gov: In a rare foray into the political world, legendary investor Warren Buffett has endorsed Democrat Chuck Hassebrook in his bid to become Nebraska's next governor and also donated a very hefty $100,000 to the cause. Buffett, known as the "Wizard of Omaha," is the second-richest person in the country, but he's long supported more progressive tax rates, even proposing a tax-hike plan on the ultra-wealthy that came to be called the "Buffett Rule." (Buffett also backed Barack Obama for president.) Hassebrook faces wealthy Republican businessman Pete Ricketts in November.
• NJ-Gov: As Jeff Smith predicted long ago, Chris Christie's legal troubles were only going to grow once prosecutors started digging their claws into Bridgegate, and indeed, they've managed to unearth a second bridge-related scandal. A new report in the New York Times says that Christie's administration pushed the Port Authority to impermissibly redirect money from a trans-Hudson rail tunnel project he obnoxiously cancelled back in 2010 and toward repairing a causeway that connects Jersey City and Newark called the Pulaski Skyway.
The authority said it had no legal right to do so, but they caved after endless Christie badgering that relied on laugh-out-loud justifications. (They called it the "Lincoln Tunnel Access Infrastructure Improvements" project. Uh, no.) Now investigators at the Manhattan district attorney's office and the SEC may bring civil and criminal charges against those involved, for misleading Port Authority bondholders. There's no word on how high this goes, but as Smith says, if Christie aides want to avoid jail time for this or any other wrongdoing, they're going to have a serious incentive to point a finger upward.
• MI-04: Retiring Rep. Dave Camp has endorsed state Sen. John Moolenaar as his preferred choice to succeed him in Congress. Moolenaar already had the establishment mantle, but he faces two businessmen in the Aug. 5 GOP primary, Paul Mitchell and Peter Konetchy. Camp decided to quit not that long ago, so no one's yet filed fundraising reports, and there hasn't been any polling. However, whoever wins the Republican nomination will be the heavy favorite in the general election in this red district.
• Primaries: Here's our recap of Tuesday night's other primary action:
• CO-04 (R): Former Weld County District Attorney (and failed 2010 Senate nominee) Ken Buck successfully completed his half of the backroom switcheroo he engineered with Rep. Cory Gardner, who took Buck's place in the Senate race. Buck defeated state Sen. Scott Renfroe 44-24 and even he probably can't screw up the general this time. (Safe R)
• CO-05 (R): One of four incumbents to survive a close shave Tuesday night, Rep. Doug Lamborn held off his underfunded challenger, retired Air Force Gen. Bentley Rayburn, by just a 53-47 margin. Lamborn will face another Air Force general, Democrat Irv Halter, in the fall. (Safe R)
• MD-Gov (D & R): Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown crushed the competition, beating state Attorney General Doug Gansler 50-24 for the Democratic nomination, while Del. Heather Mizeur finished third with 22. Brown will be the heavy favorite against businessman Larry Hogan, who won the GOP primary 43-30 over Harford County Executive David Craig.
• NY-01 (R): The Valtrex worked: State Sen. Lee Zeldin, the establishment choice, handily defeated self-funding attorney George Demos—once memorably described as "the genital herpes of Long Island politics" by a GOP official. Zeldin will face Democratic Rep. Tim Bishop, who is looking very vulnerable in November. The one upside, though, is that Zeldin's 55 percent Obama Senate seat is now open and will be a top target for Democrats. (Tossup)
• NY-04 (D): Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice, who had been endorsed by the DCCC, defeated Nassau County Legislator Kevan Abrahams, albeit by a narrower-than-expected 56-44 margin, given her big fundraising advantage. Rice will nevertheless have a decisive edge against Republican attorney Bruce Blakeman as she tries to hold this open seat for the Democrats. (Likely D)
• NY-13 (D): Rep. Charlie Rangel once again managed to hold off state Sen. Adriano Espaillat, this time by a 47-44 margin, a touch wider than his 2012 win. Rangel pulled it off by performing better in majority-black precincts than Espaillat did in predominantly Hispanic precincts, not least because Rangel did well in the heavily Puerto Rican area of Spanish Harlem. Rangel has said this will be his last term, but he's probably feeling pretty chuffed seeing as how many one-time allies left him for dead. (Safe D)
• NY-21 (R): With a big assist from American Crossroads, former George W. Bush White House aide Elise Stefanik pummeled investment banker Matt Doheny 61-39. (The GOP establishment didn't want to see Doheny get the nod a third time, so Karl Rove went sharply negative on him.) Stefanik will go up against Democratic filmmaker Aaron Woolf in the fall, as Republicans try to take this swingy open seat back. (Tossup)
• NY-22 (R): Rep. Richard Hanna, one of the absolute last moderates in the GOP caucus, survived a scare from Assemblywoman Claudia Tenney, who held the incumbent to a narrow 53-47 win despite receiving no outside help. Hanna took the race seriously from the start, but next time, if tea partiers get involved, he could be doomed. For now, he's a lock for re-election because Democrats pathetically failed to field a candidate even though this is a swingy seat (and even though Hanna could well have lost his renomination bid). (Safe R)
• OK-Sen-B (R): Rep. James Lankford absolutely mashed former state House Speaker T.W. Shannon, winning 57-34 even though polling had shown the race close. Shannon had the backing of the tea party establishment, but Lankford's ties to Christian social conservatives evidently ran deeper. Lankford thus avoids a runoff and is a lock to succeed retiring Sen. Tom Coburn in the fall. (Safe R)
• OK-05 (R): The race to fill Lankford's seat, on the other hand, will indeed head to a runoff. Former state Sen. Steve Russell narrowly edged out state Corporation Commissioner Patrice Douglas 27-24, so the two will meet up again on Aug. 26. (Safe R)