The Message from Mississippi: Democrats are Not Sitting it Out This Year

Last night  marked the second high-stakes GOP primary where Democrats have screwed up the pollsters' math. In Virginia's 7th district, where knocking off an entrenched Republican incumbent in the primary would actually give the Democrat in the race a shot against a nutjob Teabagger, they knocked off Eric Cantor. Now in Mississippi, where a Democrat has a smaller chance of winning the Senate seat than a hailstorm in hell, Democrats - black Democrats - mowed down the Tea Party scourge like it's nobody's business.

Mississippi Republican Sen. Thad Cochran pulled out a slim (less than 2 points) but upset victory over his Tea Party challenger Chris McDaniel. Three weeks ago, Cochran had narrowly lost the Republican primary to McDaniel, but since neither got over 50% of the vote, the ballot went to a runoff.

The way Cochran pulled off this victory, though, is giving the far-Right Tea Party seizures. After his loss on June 3, the Republican establishment - Mississippi and national - pulled out all the stops to... err... stop McDaniel. But you'd never guess who they went to, hat in hand, begging for the votes to actually put Cochran over the top: Democrats. Black Democrats.

And it worked.

“There's no doubt that a big Democrat Delta crossover by mostly black areas gave Sen. Thad Cochran a big upset victory, which no poll predicted,” writes Jay O’Callaghan, a veteran Republican election analyst, in an e-mail.

The numbers tell the story. In Jefferson County, a Delta county where black voters represent the largest share of eligible voters in the state, Cochran went from 123 votes on June 3 to 321 votes on Tuesday.

Republican powerhouse in the state, Haley Barbour, agreed.

Mississippi has an open primary, and Democrats who hadn't already voted in their party's primary on June 3 were able to vote the Republican ballot yesterday.

Cochran heavily courted the black vote. Not only did he go after McDaniel for wanting to kill the federal cash cow to the state - McDaniel opposes federal funds for public education, highways, and more - with flyers in heavily African American areas of the state as well as TV ads, he also hit McDaniel for trying to do something the Republican party has been dedicated to since desegregation: suppressing the black vote.

In fact, the flyer circulated to African American voters on behalf of Cochran could just as well have been written by a Democrat. "Mississippi cannot and will not return to the bygone era of intimidating black Mississippians from voting," read the flyer, after calling out his own party's tactic to use "Democrat" as a code word for 'black people.'

But it's not just anecdotes that are telling us that Cochran owes his victory to black voters. A data analysis on Five Thirty Eight at the New York Times categorically proves that black voters didn't just make a difference; they made the entire difference. In one predominantly African American county alone, Cochran picked up almost his entire margin over McDaniel.

Take Hinds County, where African-Americans make up 69 percent of the population, as an example. Cochran increased his vote total there by about 7,000 votes from the first round of the primary and his share of the vote by a little over 6 percentage points to 72 percent on Tuesday.

Represented on a plot, this is how strongly Cochran's vote growth (since the initial June 3 primary for which last night was a runoff) correlates with a county's black population:

It's no accident that McDaniel and the Tea Party are furious at Cochran and the Republican establishment for going to reliably Democratic African American voters hat in hand, and that McDaniel is refusing to concede the race.

But while McDaniel pouts, it's time for our national pollsters to realize that there is something seriously wrong with their predictive models for the 2014 midterms. It's time they woke up and realized that their assumption of minority and Democratic voters sitting home in November is just not measuring up to the reality on the ground. If Democrats can be this organized and make this much difference in blood red areas of the country, its time for pollsters to think twice about where Democratic voters are all over America.

Last week's WSJ/NBC poll revealed that overall enthusiasm is actually down in 2014 - by a net 15 points - from 2010. However, given the fact that 2010's midterm wave turnout was almost entirely made up of revved up right wing voters (combined with Democrats staying home), the rachet down in enthusiasm this time around is likely coming from them as well. Already, Tea Party members are passing the note to their followers not to vote as a protest against Thad Cochran conspiring with the enemy, I mean, black people.

If there is a voter enthusiasm gap to account for in November, all indications are that it will count against the Republicans as Tea Party followers seek to punish the GOP. But twice in one month now, we have seen that Democrats are in no mood to sit out this election. In fact, Democrats can't wait to vote - so much so that when there is no Democratic primary, they are wrecking havoc on the GOP ones.

It's time pollsters adjusted their turnout models for November to reflect this new dynamic.