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Updated: Tue, 24 Jun 2014 23:59:37 GMT | By The Associated Press, cbc.ca

Thad Cochran, U.S. Republican Senator, wins Mississippi primary despite Tea Party challenge



Sen. Thad Cochran greets supporters as they cheer his entrance at McElroy's in Ocean Springs, Miss., on Tuesday, June 24, 2014. Voters go to the polls Tuesday to vote in the Republican primary runoff election between incumbent Cochran and challenger Chris McDaniel. (© AP Photo/Sun Herald, Amanda McCoy)

Sen. Thad Cochran greets supporters as they cheer his entrance at McElroy's in Ocean Springs, Miss., on Tuesday, June 24, 2014. Voters go to the polls Tuesday to vote in the Republican primary runoff election between incumbent Cochran and challenger Chris McDaniel. (AP Photo/Sun Herald, Amanda McCoy) LOCAL TELEVISION OUT; MANDATORY CREDIT: MISSISSIPPI PRESS OUT; LOCAL TELEVISION OUT WLOX, LOCAL ONLINE OUT; GULFLIVE.COM OUT Amanda McCoy/Sun Herald/Associated Press

A longtime Mississippi senator narrowly defeated a rival backed by the small-government Tea Party movement Tuesday, a major win for mainstream Republicans two weeks after they were stunned by the defeat of a top party leader.

Senator Thad Cochran's victory on Tuesday was the first big test for the party establishment since the No. 2 Republican in the House of Representatives, Eric Cantor, lost two weeks ago to a little-known college professor loosely associated with the tea party.

Cochran defeated state legislator Chris McDaniel, who collected more votes than Cochran in the original June 3 primary, but was short of the 50 per cent needed to avoid the run-off. With 99 per cent of precincts reporting Tuesday, Cochran led with 51 per cent to McDaniel's 49 per cent.

Cochran's victory continues a streak of triumphs by mainstream Republican senators over the Tea Party. That has been crucial to Republican hopes for winning control of the Senate in the November general election. In the two previous elections, Tea Party candidates defeated more mainstream Republicans in primaries, only to lose to Democrats after being perceived as too radical or unstable.

Mississippi is solidly Republican and probably would have remained in Republican hands even if McDaniel had won. Still, Cochran's victory is likely to comfort mainstream Republicans shaken by Cantor's defeat.

The race reflected the sharp divisions in Republican ranks, pitting Washington clout against insistence on conservative purity.

Cochran, who has spent almost half his 76 years in the Senate, has highlighted his decades on the influential Appropriations Committee and his work directing billions in federal dollars to his home state, one of the poorest in the nation.Cochran's win is unlikely to affect Republican efforts to win control of the Senate from Democrats. Mississippi is strongly Republican and either candidate would be heavily favoured in the November general election.

He also reached out to traditionally Democratic voters — blacks and union members. Voters who cast ballots in the June 3 Democratic primary were barred from participating.

McDaniel, 41, had the backing of former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin and the Tea Party movement, which wants to cut spending and keep taxes to a minimum.

Democrat also faces uncertain vote

Democrats also had a veteran lawmaker vulnerable to a challenge from his party Tuesday.

Congressman Charles Rangel, 84, who has represented Harlem and other parts of New York City for more than 40 years, faced a strong challenge from AdrianoEspaillat, a 59-year-old state lawmaker bidding to become the first Dominican-American member of Congress.

Rangel drew criticism last month when he dismissed Espaillat as a candidate whose only accomplishment was to be a Dominican in a majority Latino district. Two years ago, Rangel prevailed in the primary by fewer than 1,100 votes.

In other races, national Republicans were nervously eyeing Colorado's four-way gubernatorial primary, which includes 2008 presidential candidate Tom Tancredo, an immigration opponent whose presence at the top of the ticket could undercut Republican prospects in November's Senate and House races.

Despite Congress' abysmal public approval ratings, incumbents have largely prevailed midway through the primary season — with two notable exceptions: Cantor’s stunning defeat and Republican senator Ralph Hall’s loss in a Texas run-off to a younger Republican.

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