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Republican U.S. Senator Thad Cochran addresses supporters during an election night celebration after defeating Tea Party challenger Chris McDaniel in a run-off election in Jackson, Mississippi June 24, 2014. (LEE CELANO/REUTERS)
Republican U.S. Senator Thad Cochran addresses supporters during an election night celebration after defeating Tea Party challenger Chris McDaniel in a run-off election in Jackson, Mississippi June 24, 2014. (LEE CELANO/REUTERS)

Mississipi senator squeezes past Tea Party rival in runoff Add to ...

U.S. Senator Thad Cochran of Mississippi narrowly defeated challenger Chris McDaniel on Tuesday in a high-profile runoff election that pitted the Republican Party establishment against the insurgent Tea Party movement.

The bitterly-fought election had become a multimillion-dollar referendum on the direction of the Republican Party as it tries to win control of the U.S. Senate in the November congressional elections.

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With 98 percent of the vote counted, Cochran led McDaniel by 50.7 percent to 49.3 percent, according to the Associated Press. CNN and other media outlets predicted McDaniel would not be able to close the gap.

Cochran, 78, has steered hundreds of billions of federal dollars to his impoverished state over a four-decade career in Congress, and courthouses and research centers throughout the state bear his name.

McDaniel argued that Cochran’s nuts-and-bolts approach is out of step with voters in his deeply conservative state and promised to take a more confrontational approach to President Barack Obama and his Democratic allies in Washington.

Cochran won in part thanks to an unusual strategy of appealing to the state’s heavily Democratic African-American voters, who were able to vote in the runoff as long as they had not voted in the June 4 Democratic primary.

It was the latest battle in a months-long primary season that has pitted the party’s business-friendly wing against groups that place a premium on small government.

Neither candidate won more than 50 percent of the vote in the June 4 primary, prompting a runoff election that drew millions of dollars in outside spending.

Backed by business groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Cochran argued that McDaniel would not be able to secure as many resources for a state that relies on federal dollars for nearly half of its state budget.

It was an argument that resonated with many voters.

“We won’t have anybody that’s strong enough up there to stand up for us and to keep our military bases and shipyards and small towns like us able to keep operating,” said Gil Spivey, 76, a retired dentist in Canton.

Cochran is strongly favored to defeat Democrat Travis Childers in the Nov. 4 election.

Republicans need to pick up six seats to win control of the 100-seat U.S. Senate, which would give them greater leverage to oppose Obama’s agenda during his remaining two years in the White House.

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