Cochran leads McDaniel in early returns from Mississippi showdown [UPDATED — COCHRAN WINS]

Tonight’s most important primary election is the runoff in Mississippi for the Republican Senate nomination. Incumbent Thad Cochran faces a stiff challenge from Chris McDaniel, the candidate of choice for the Tea Party and other staunch conservatives.

Recent polls have shown McDaniel ahead, but with 37 percent of the precincts counted, Cochran leads by 53.5 to 46.5. In raw numbers, this translates to a little more than 6,000 which, of course, is far from an insurmountable lead.

Cochran reportedly campaigned hard for the votes of Democrats and African-Americans. As Allahpundit points out, all voters were eligible to vote in the Republican runoff as long as they didn’t vote in the Democratic Senate primary.

Many believe that the Republicans have a lock on statewide races in Mississippi. On this theory — which some say McDanniel, who made some reckless comments when he was a radio talk show host, would put to the test — the Republican primary is the only chance for Democrats truly to influence the selection of the Senator from Mississippi.

For what it’s worth, Cochran led McDaniel by 4,000 votes with two-thirds of the precincts counted during their initial race on June 3. Yet McDaniel rallied to edge Cochran by 2,500 votes (though he fell short of 50 percent). If this election follows the same pattern, McDaniel’s supporters need not be too discouraged by the early returns.

In any event, we’ll continue to follow this race.

UPDATE: We’re at the two-thirds mark now. This time, Cochran leads by 9,000 votes. In percentage terms, his lead is 52.4 to 47.6.

In the June 3 election, 313,483 votes were cast. Today, with two-thirds of the precincts in, just under 200,000 votes had been counted. Thus, it is not clear that the voter ranks have been significantly enhanced by Democrats [NOTE: But see below].

SURE ENOUGH: The race is tightening a bit. Now, with three quarters of the precincts in, McDaniel trails by 7,000 votes. In percentage terms, Cochran leads by 51.5 to 48.5.

MORE: Now, with 80 percent of the precincts in, Cochran’s lead is less than 4,000 votes. So far, the race is following a pattern similar to the one three weeks ago, in which McDaniel very narrowly obtained a plurality of the vote. It thus remains too close to call.

COCHRAN’S LEAD STILL SHRINKING: With 87 percent of the precincts in, Cochran now leads by only 2.300 votes. If I were a betting man, I think I’d put my money on McDaniel. But who really knows?

BUT FORTUNATELY I’M NOT A BETTING MAN: Now, 92 percent of the precincts are counted and Cochran’s lead is back to almost 5,000 votes. For perspective, in the June 3 election McDaniel had taken a 1,500 vote lead at the 95 percent mark. He went on the add about 1,000 votes to his margin.

We’ve now reached that same mark, and Cochran leads by 4,000 votes.

COCHRAN WINS: 99 percent of the precincts have reported, and Cochran leads by 6,000 votes. That translates to 50.8 percent of the vote, which now totals 365,000. Cochran has thus been declared the winner.

In the end, turnout was significantly larger than in the June 3 election, which helps explain why the result is different. Were many of the new voters Democrats? It seems quite plausible to think so. Were many of these Democrats African-American? Again, this looks like a reasonable conclusion.