The beautification of Thad Cochran

In ugly race, senator's allies suddenly turn cheery in final bid to save Mississippi mainstay's job

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To avert the end of Thad Cochran's political career tonight, moneyed allies of the six-term Republican U.S. senator from Mississippi have invested in sunshine and rainbows.

During the three weeks since June 4, when Cochran and tea party-backed opponent Chris McDaniel advanced to Mississippi's GOP primary runoff, super PACs and nonprofits have spent $1.25 million on advertisements and other communications that specifically promote Cochran's candidacy, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis of federal spending disclosures.

In contrast, such groups spent a tiny fraction of that amount — $83,000 — attacking McDaniel from June 4 through today.

This late-stage boosterism represents a monumental departure from the scorched-earth tack pro-Cochran organizations took prior to the runoff phase of this intra-party brawl that's been most notable for its negativity, dirty trickery and cost.

Consider that outside groups spent just $682,000 on ads and messages boosting Cochran — and about $2.1 million on ads and messages attacking McDaniel — during the months leading up to the race's June 3 primary election, the Center for Public Integrity's analysis indicates.

During the runoff period, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Realtors Congressional Fund, social welfare nonprofit Main Street Advocacy and the Mississippi Conservatives super PAC have led Cochran's positivity parade.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which spent $700,000 in the runoff phase, trotted out football legend Brett Favre to pitch Cochran to voters. "Thad Cochran always delivers," Favre says as cheery music plays in the background.  

The messages of Cochran's outside allies tracks with the runoff period ads of Cochran's own campaign, which this month have largely depicted Cochran as an upbeat political veteran who "can do more for Mississippi."

The National Republican Senatorial Committee — an official GOP party committee — also on Saturday gave Cochran a decidedly positive media phone banking boost worth $175,000. This represents its one and only independent expenditure during the race.

McDaniel's backers have been must more cutthroat this month in their ads and messaging.

Of the nearly $2 million they've together spent during the runoff period, the majority — about $1.1 million — funded efforts attacking Cochran. Super PAC Club for Growth Action accounted for more than half this amount and 501(c)(4) nonprofit Independent Women's Voice adding another $209,000.

The rest of pro-McDaniel groups' spending went toward messages directly advocating for McDaniel's election.

In the end, Mississippi's GOP primary will be a more than $17 million affair when candidate fundraising and outside group spending are accounted, Federal Election Commission records show. 

When the money the candidates themselves raised for their primary campaigns is added to the money spent by supportive outside groups, the results are nearly even: Team McDaniel controlled about $8.8 million, Team Cochran nearly $8.6 million.

Cochran's campaign committee has trounced McDaniel's team in money raised — $4.46 million to $1.54 million through June 4, the last date through which comprehensive financial disclosures are available. (These numbers will certainly grow after the campaigns disclose runoff contributions next month.)

But when it comes to outside group support? Advantage McDaniel. The tea party favorite enjoyed nearly $7.3 million in spending from organizations backing him, compared to the $4.1 million in spending by pro-Cochran organizations.

Overall, outside groups' spending has easily outpaced the candidates' own fundraising — only the second time this has occurred in a U.S. Senate primary since the 2010 election cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

The winner of tonight's runoff faces Democrat Travis Childers, a former congressman, in November's general election.