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Boxer Cheers Cochran Primary Win, Sees Lesson for Transportation Bill

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., cheered the GOP primary win of Sen. Thad Cochran in Mississippi on Wednesday and  said she hoped his winning message of bringing back money to Mississippi would be a lesson to to other senators.  

“I saw some of the ads that were on television and they made a very important point: that Sen. Cochran has worked to bring money back for Mississippi,” Boxer said. “His opponent was not interested in that.”  

Boxer, who is chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, made her comments at a news conference she convened to urge support for a plan floated by Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., to raise $9 billion through an assortment of tax code tweaks to keep transportation programs funded through the end of the year.  

“I bring this up because in the deepest of red states, in the deepest of red primaries you had someone who made that part of his appeal that he has worked here to bring funds back to Mississippi and I’m heartened by that because … [infrastructure funding] is a basic responsibility and hopefully that will send a message of courage to my colleagues,” Boxer continued.  

Cochran, a veteran member of the Appropriations Committee, had built a reputation of delivering for his state through earmarks. That reputation came under attack after the practice fell out of favor.  

That reputation also left Cochran vulnerable from attacks from the right.  

Chris McDaniel, his tea-party-aligned primary opponent, pushed Cochran to a runoff in a contentious and closely watched campaign.  

But Cochran pulled it out Tuesday night winning 51 percent of the vote with turnout for the runoff surpassing the June 3 primary.  

Speaking at a breakfast hosted by the Wall Street Journal, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said that his victory was significant, and holds lessons for future incumbent campaigns.  

“I think it was very significant in that the attention of all the Republicans and the country was on this race. We know all the dynamics and the background of it,” said McCain, who stumped for Cochran. “When I was there in Mississippi it was clear that tea party advocates — which is their right and I don’t complain about it — but, they flooded into that state. They were everywhere at the grassroots level.”  

“I think the reason why Thad Cochran did so poorly in the primary was they, they kind of took it for granted,” McCain continued. “We’ve got to understand, anybody who’s running for re-election who is associated with Washington has already alienated a large number of the primary voters. And if you don’t accept that, as Lindsey Graham did by the way, and others have, then you are going to find yourself in some political difficulty.”  

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., handily defeated his tea party primary opponent and five other challengers, winning 59 percent of the vote earlier this month, despite his support for a comprehensive immigration overhaul.  

McCain added that a defeat for Cochran would have had greater repercussions.  

“In a way, the victory is helpful that Thad Cochran had, but a defeat for Thad Cochran would have … reverberated one heck of a lot more,” McCain said.  

Sen. Charles E. Schumer the No. 3 Democrat in the Senate who appeared at the breakfast with McCain, said he thinks the tea party’s influence is waning.  

“I think it’s peaked,” Schumer said of the tea party’s power. “I think it’s not just this election, but you look at all of them, and the mainstream conservatives were able to win. Some of them went right into the eye of the tiger, like Lindsey. Some of them sort of went around it, but they won.”  

He said he viewed the primary defeat of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., as an anomaly.