JACKSON, Miss. - Mainstream Republicans expressed relief Wednesday at Sen. Thad Cochran's comeback victory over conservative tea party challenger Chris McDaniel, highlighting the distance between traditional Republican powers and challengers determined to pull the party further rightward.
McDaniel refused to concede the race and said he would probe "irregularities" in Tuesday's voting. The primary election was to determine which Republican would be on the ballot in the general election in November.
McDaniel's insistence that Democrats voting in his party's primary was a bad thing made some mainstream Republicans cringe. They expressed relief that Cochran, a six-term senator, is now the heavy favourite to win re-election over Democrat Travis Childers.
"I'm for more people voting, not less people voting," Sen. Rand Paul told reporters in Washington.
Mainstream Republicans said Cochran's victory allows their party to continue its push to win a Senate majority in November without worrying whether McDaniel will join Texas Sen. Ted Cruz in a conservative faction that often frustrates operations of the Senate.
Also, McDaniel might have put the seat in jeopardy in November, said Sen. Jerry Moran, chairman of the Senate Republican campaign committee.
Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander's August primary is the next challenge to a sitting Republican senator by a challenger from the right.
Cochran's campaign reached out to black community leaders, taking advantage of their unhappiness over McDaniel's anti-government rhetoric and scathing criticism of President Barack Obama, who got support from just 1 of 10 white Mississippi voters in 2012.
Statewide turnout increased by almost 70,000 votes over the June 3 primary. Turnout in majority black counties grew by 43 per cent, while in counties where blacks are less than a majority, it grew 17 per cent.
In Washington, Republicans found themselves hoping openly for more black votes in the future, though the party has insisted in Mississippi and elsewhere on voter ID laws that some African-Americans criticize as modern poll taxes.
Barrow reported from Atlanta. Associated Press writers David Espo, Donna Cassata and Charles Babington and polling director Jennifer Agiesta contributed from Washington.
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