Mississippi’s Republican brawl too close to call [UPDATED — runoff coming]

This is another primary day in the 2014 cycle. The most interesting race is the Republican Senate primary in Mississippi between longtime Senator Thad Cochran and state Sen. Chris McDaniel, the Tea Party’s favorite in the race.

I don’t believe we have written about this contest and, frankly, I have averted my eyes. It has been that distasteful. I’ve always thought, however, that Mississippi could do with a more conservative Senator than Cochran. McDaniel, from all that appears, would be such a Senator.

As it stands now, Cochran has the lead, but the race is too close to call. With 68 percent of the precincts reporting, Cochran has 50.3 percent of the vote to McDaniel’s 48.0 percent. In raw numbers, Cochran leads by a little more less than 4,000 votes.

To me, this suggests that Cochran will likely finish ahead of McDaniel. But to avoid a run-off, his total must exceed 50 percent. Therein may lie the biggest drama of the night.

ALSO: A second race of interest is the Republican Senate primary in Iowa. Joni Ernst is the favorite in this one, having received endorsements ranging from Mitt Romney to Sarah Palin, and from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to the Senate Conservatives Fund.

The early returns show Ernst with a substantial lead.

Iowa represents a pickup opportunity for Republicans, especially given Democrat Bruce Braley’s dismissal of popular Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley as a “farmer from Iowa who never went to law school.” However, recent polls all show Braley with a lead over Ernst ranging from 3 to 8 points.

Polls show Mark Jacobs running a bit stronger than Ernst, though he trails Braley in all but one. But Jacobs is running a distant third tonight in the early returns.

UPDATE: The tables have turned in Mississippi. McDaniel has taken a 1,400 vote lead with 95 percent of the precincts counted. But McDaniel is short of 50 percent as things stand now. He’s at 49.4 percent, while Cochran is at 49.0.

In Iowa, meanwhile, Joni Ernst has won the Republican Senate nomination.

THIS RACE WON’T DIE: McDaniel edged Cochran by about 2,500 votes but fell short of 50 percent. So the ugliness will be prolonged in a runoff, to be held on June 24.

McDaniel will be favored, I imagine, as he seems to have the momentum. The Republican National Senatorial Committee may be less all-in for Sen. Cochran as it realizes that McDaniel maybe coming to Washington. In addition, the scandal over the photos taken by a McDaniel supporter of Cochran’s incapacitated wife may recede.