It's no secret that a McDaniel victory last night would have been a boon to Democratic senatorial nominee Travis Childers. He would have begun as a favorite in the polls, and would have become the prohibitive favorite within a week or so as Thad-supporting Republican voters recoiled at McDaniel's rhetoric. National money would have flowed in like manna from heaven. And it certainly appeared like that was all about to take place.
Then Democrats rushed to the polls to vote for Cochran, and snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. The fact that they did that speaks volumes about how a sizable chunk of Mississippi Democrats feel about the competency of the Mississippi Democratic Party and the electorate as a whole. But contrary to what some are saying, it doesn't say anything about the character of those crossover voters. They simply don't think a Democrat can win a federal election statewide, and I don't blame them for feeling that way. Democratic candidates not named Jim Hood haven't exactly given them much to believe in lately.
Now that we have the table set for a Cochran-Childers race, does Travis Childers stand a chance? I haven't completed my analysis of the numbers from last night, but it appears to me that the answer is yes. Here's why: If the Democrats who put Cochran over the top last night come home, and if McDaniel voters split away from the Cochran camp, then we have exactly the same statistical scenario Democrats were counting on to beat McDaniel, which was a splintered Republican vote and a strong Democratic turnout.
Until I can crunch the numbers a good bit more, all I've got is this back-of-the-napkin-style analysis. It appears as though Cochran got around 40,000 Democrats to vote for him yesterday. McDaniel had approximately 185,000 voters. Looking at the 2007 Mississippi gubernatorial race, which is an imperfect comparison for many reasons, but still the best comparison available in my estimation, Haley Barbour received 430,807 votes to John Arthur Eaves, Jr.'s 313,232. If you take 40,000 from Barbour's '07 number, and then figure in a third of McDaniel's voters staying home or voting for McDaniel via write-in, the GOP number shrinks to 329,757, a mere 16,000-vote advantage over Eaves's '07 number. When you factor in the differences between Eaves '07 and Childers '14, it is certainly not inconceivable that Childers could substantially best the Eaves numbers.
So while this path for Childers certainly isn't as easy as the path to victory over McDaniel, a Childers victory in November remains a very realistic possibility.
Footnote: This post is written before McDaniel makes his intentions clear. He certainly appeared to be soldiering on last night, but no one knows if that passion will hold. One option for McDaniel is to rage against the MSGOP machine from now through November, possibly raising his profile for a statewide run in 2015. If he is to do that, then his effect on the Cochran-Childers race could be substantial.