As the clock runs down toward the November general election, many in Mississippi are wondering if the bruising Republican senate primary and legal fight will affect the final outcome. Without the split in the Republican Party, the GOP nominee would be a near certain lock to win the general election. The big question hanging over the race is how much damage has been done by the hotly contested June 24th primary.
State senator Chris McDaniel's legal challenge to his primary run off loss is still working its way to the state supreme court, but regardless of how they rule, the race could have a big impact on the November general election.
McDaniel says he is still upset by the loss and thinks that supporters of incumbent senator Thad Cochran and the Mississippi Republican establishment cheated him out of a rightful win.
"They were willing to sacrifice a friend for power. They would say and do anything to do that. And they did. That’s problematic, but not just for me because when they called me those nasty names, when they called me a racist – which is not true, when they said I was going to cut off funding for historically black colleges and universities -- which is not true, when they said I was going to end welfare and suspend voting rights – which is all not true, they were likewise saying it about 187,000 conservatives," McDaniel said
McDaniel has asked the court to declare him the winner or order a new election.
Many of the voters who supported his primary challenge, especially those who consider themselves Tea Party activists, say they are offended that the Cochran campaign reached outside of the Republican party to defeat McDaniel.
Laura VanOverschelde, chair of the Mississippi Tea Party, says they will not endorse or campaign for Cochran.
"We endorsed Chris McDaniel because he holds those truths that we should have a limited government, we should have fiscal responsibility and we should have free markets in this country. And Thad Cochran has not shown us by his voting record that he supports any of those," VanOverschelde said.
Whether or not McDaniel voters turn out is a huge X-factor in what would normally be a very safe general election race for the Republican nominee.
Jackson State political science professor D'Andre Orey says tea party supporters have a choice to make.
“The Tea Party electorate can do one of two things. They can get out their vote so that the Democrat does not win because that is a very, very plausible case if they don’t get out the vote. Or they can stay home and show, in their opinion, how much power they have," Orey said.
Former Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour is often credited with helping construct the modern state Republican establishment.
His nephew headed up the Cochran campaign and helped orchestrate the outreach that enraged Tea Party supporters.
Barbour thinks those people who are angry now will remember what's at stake in November.
"The Obama admin has followed policies so far to the left and so antagonistic to what republicans, whether they are tea party republicans or been republicans for 50 years….those Obama policies are so bad people are not going to stay home," Barbour said.
The state's Republican Party chairman Joe Nosef says he is reaching out to Tea Party groups around the state to try and sooth any lingering hurt feelings that could cause people to stay home or vote for the Democratic challenger Travis Childers.
I said to someone the other day that my only hope is that you wouldn’t vote against your own best interest and try to get somebody back that ran an ad you didn’t like," Nosef said.
A spokesman for Cochran says they are confident their victory will stand and are now shifting into a general election stance.
The most recent poll shows Cochran with a 15 point lead over his Childers, who is a former congressman from Mississippi's first district.
Childers says he does not think the Republican primary will affect the general election, nor will his affiliation with the Democratic Party weigh him down.
"People are far less concerned about party in the state of Mississippi. They are more concerned about who will work for them and stand up in Washington D.C. I am clearly the working man and working woman's candidate," Childers said.
The state Supreme Court isn't set to hear the case until early next month.
In the meantime, ballots are being print that list Senator Cochran as the Republican nominee.