JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi Republican Thad Cochran has won a seventh term in the U.S. Senate after enduring a primary that was the toughest challenge of his political career and a general election in which he rarely acknowledged his Democratic opponent.
Unofficial results show the 76-year-old former chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee defeated two challengers Tuesday — Democratic former U.S. Rep. Travis Childers and Reform Party candidate Shawn O'Hara.
Cochran was first elected to the U.S. House in 1972 and won his first six-year term in the Senate in 1978. He waited until late last year to announce he was seeking re-election, weeks after a tea party-backed state senator, Chris McDaniel, had entered the race and lined up financial support from groups that sought to unseat longtime Republicans.
McDaniel led Cochran and one other Republican candidate in the June 3 primary. But Cochran rallied and defeated McDaniel by 7,667 votes in a runoff three weeks later.
McDaniel never conceded. Instead, he filed a lawsuit claiming the runoff results were tainted by voting irregularities. A circuit judge dismissed the lawsuit, saying it was filed too late. The state Supreme Court upheld the dismissal on Oct. 24.
Some Mississippi voters said Tuesday that they had moved past the bitter Republican primary and were ready to send Cochran back to Washington. Others said it was time to give someone else a chance.
Bryon Rushing, 51, of Forest, said he voted for Childers — the first time he had voted for a Democrat. Rushing, who's self-employed, said he backed McDaniel in the Republican primary.
"This country has to get back to the root conservative principles, but I could not vote for Thad Cochran," Rushing said after voting Tuesday at the Scott County Courthouse. "I didn't like the way he turned to Democrats to take the GOP runoff."
Susan Ross, 62, of Madison, manager of a medical office, said she voted for Cochran because she's unhappy with the direction of the country under President Barack Obama. She said she is particularly dissatisfied with the health overhaul that Obama signed into law in 2010.
"I really think we're headed toward a socialistic problem," Ross said after voting at First Presbyterian Church in Madison.
Ross said she believes Cochran's seniority helps Mississippi.
"I just think we need him in there. We need the Republican leadership," Ross said.
Sherrita Bryant, 25, of Jackson, who works at the Nissan plant in Canton, voted for Childers because she was raised in a family of Democrats. Bryant said she believes the Senate is dominated by people who only care about the wealthy.
"The people need to have a voice," said Bryant, who voted at Faith Presbyterian Church in Jackson. "I want to know: What can they do? What can they agree on? It affects us as a whole."