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What Democrats Can Learn From Thad Cochran: Turnout, Turnout, Turnout!

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Cross-posted from The Nation


Thad Cochran just did Democrats a favor.
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Yes, yes, of course, the veteran Republican senator's comeback win in Tuesday's Mississippi Republican primary runoff made it a lot less likely that the Magnolia State will join Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana and North Carolina on the list of Southern states where Democrats could win Senate seats this fall. And, yes, that will make it harder for Democrats to hold their majority in the chamber.

But Cochran's win taught a pair of lessons that Democrats must learn -- not as talking points but as a core concepts -- if they hope to secure positive results in November.

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Lesson One: Turnout is definitional.

Lesson Two: Turnout can be substantially increased, even in the most difficult of circumstances, with focused energy, resources and messaging.

In the initial Mississippi Republican Senate primary, Cochran's Tea Party-backed challenger, Chris McDaniel, narrowly led the conservative -- yet relatively genteel -- incumbent. McDaniel fell just short of winning 50 percent, however, and under Mississippi law a runoff was required between the top two finishers.

By most measures, that should have been the end of it for Cochran.

Runoffs usually attract lower voter turnout than initial primaries, and Tea Party candidates thrive in low-turnout contests--when the most extreme voters are the most likely to show up.

Cochran was advised to give up.

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John Nichols, a pioneering political blogger, has written the Online Beat since 1999. His posts have been circulated internationally, quoted in numerous books and mentioned in debates on the floor of Congress.

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