As I have said before in this space, the no. 1 party affiliation in America is now independent. Voters have become more skeptical than ever with regard to the two major parties. The Democrats have done a good job of purging their party of their moderate and conservative members and have moved to the extremities of the political spectrum, while the GOP has done an equally good job of discouraging these disaffected Democrats from registering Republican. Here in West Virginia the pattern is similar — the party of the Democrats is shrinking, the ranks of the independents are swelling and the GOP is treading water.
While the party of the Democrats is becoming smaller and more homogeneous, things are more interesting over at the GOP. There are hotly contested races and issues being debated and there is an insurgency against the establishment that is almost refreshing. There are even signs that Republican voters are waking up to the realization that primaries are as important as general elections, if not more so — that is, if you want to avoid having to choose between the lesser of evils.
There have been two recent primary races that have sent shock waves through the GOP establishment. One is the stunning defeat of Eric Cantor, the Republican House Majority Leader and seven-term incumbent, at the hands of economics professor David Brat. Cantor had millions of dollars at his disposal while Brat had $200,000 and won by more than 10 percentage points.
Brat, a professor at a small Virginia liberal arts college, was described by The New York Times as “Tea Party backed” and received very little in the way of funds from traditional corporate and party sources. Cantor, on the other hand, was considered a “rainmaker” by the Virginia state party. In fact, his loss is considered to be a blow by the local party because of his ability to fundraise. Virginia voters sent a strong message that they are tired of being bought.
Another candidate described as “Tea Party backed” was Chris McDaniel, who waged a strong primary challenge against longtime incumbent Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran. McDaniel too did not receive much in the way of corporate money, relying primarily on grassroots contributions.
It’s been two weeks since the election and although Cochran was declared the winner by a relatively close margin, there are still legal challenges to sort through. Cochran and McDaniel were the survivors of the original primary election and faced each other in a runoff. The polls were predicting a solid win for McDaniel. At the last minute, to the stunned surprise of many, the Cochran campaign reached out to Democrats from the black community with ads portraying McDaniel as a racist and asked them to vote in the Republican primary for Cochran. There are reports that approximately 35,000 Democrats voted in the Republican primary and that Cochran won by approximately 6,700 votes. Since then, all heck has broken loose.
According to Mississippi law, Democrats can cross over and vote in Republican primaries (and vice versa), but they can’t vote in both primaries. Allegations have surfaced that there were thousands of voters that did precisely that. True the Vote, an organization that was targeted by the IRS and is a strong advocate for voter ID laws, has joined with the McDaniel campaign to file suit to have the election overturned. This election may very well be the poster child for why voter ID laws are necessary.
To further complicate matters, a video interview has surfaced on the Internet featuring the pastor of a church in Meridian who has come forward with allegations that he was hired by the Cochran campaign to buy votes in the black community. Other allegations of possible campaign finance improprieties have also surfaced. There could be egg on a lot of faces before this election is finally put in the books if the allegations are found to be true. Haley Barbour, a former governor of Mississippi and former chairman of the Republican National Committee, campaigned heavily for Thad Cochran. His involvement in the recruitment of Democrats to vote in the election has, to put it mildly, caused a stir among Republicans locally and nationally.
But wait, there’s more. Cochran’s donors include former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg as well as the National Rifle Association. They say that politics makes strange bedfellows, but this one takes the cake. Bloomberg is a fanatical opponent of our Second Amendment rights, while the NRA describes itself as “diligent protectors of the Second Amendment.” How is it that the NRA can support the same candidate as Michael Bloomberg? Inquiring minds would like to know. It would appear that the NRA has some explaining to do to its members.
As the Democrats have moved determinedly and markedly left along the traditional political spectrum, it is strange, to say the least, to see Republicans recruiting Democrats to vote in a Republican primary. It’s ironic that so many voters would rather register independent. Ron Paul was once asked if he felt there was room in American politics for a third party. He responded that we haven’t tried the two-party system yet. It got a good laugh at the time.
— Elliot Simon writes from Harpers Ferry