June 24 (Bloomberg) -- U.S. Senator Thad Cochran awaits his political fate tonight as voters cast ballots in Mississippi’s U.S. Senate Republican runoff, a race that drew millions of dollars of spending from Tea Party and business groups.
During the last week alone, outside groups spent almost $1 million on the race, trying to boost the six-term incumbent or his challenger, state Senator Chris McDaniel, according to the Washington-based Center for Responsive Politics. Total spending by the groups in the campaign has exceeded $11 million.
A McDaniel win would boost momentum for the limited-government Tea Party movement, coupled with its most notable triumph this year, the upset by David Brat of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in Virginia’s June 10 Republican primary.
The Tea Party targeted Cochran, 76, for exemplifying much of what it seeks to change in Washington -- longevity in Congress, a willingness to compromise with Democrats, and a perceived softness on reducing the national debt and federal deficit. The fiscal issues are at the movement’s core.
McDaniel, 41, was endorsed by Tea Party favorite Sarah Palin, the former governor of Alaska, as well as Washington-based groups aligned with the movement, including the Club for Growth, FreedomWorks and the Madison Project.
Cochran’s supporters included Senator John McCain of Arizona, the 2008 Republican presidential nominee who stumped for his colleague during the campaign’s final weekend. Retired National Football League star quarterback Brett Favre, a Mississippi native, endorsed Cochran in a TV ad paid for by the Chamber of Commerce, the largest U.S. business lobbying group.
The winner of today’s runoff will face Democrat Travis Childers, a former U.S. House member, in November’s general election in a state that 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney carried by 12 percentage points. Republicans need a net gain of six seats to win a U.S. Senate majority.
In his final efforts in the runoff campaign, Cochran sought to turn the Tea Party criticism of his record into a positive. He stressed his Washington clout and history of bringing resources back to his home state.
McDaniel continued to spotlight his commitment to Tea Party goals and the need for Mississippi to have a fresh voice in Washington.
The runoff was required after neither man won at least 50 percent of the vote in a June 3 primary that included a third candidate. That race ended with McDaniel leading Cochran by about 1,400 votes out of more than 313,000 cast.
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