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Anchored by Jake Tapper, The Lead airs at 4 p.m. ET on CNN.

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June 25th, 2014
04:45 PM ET

Democrats likely swung Mississippi GOP contest

(CNN) - To clinch the GOP nomination, Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran's backers turned to Democrats, especially African-Americans who make up 37% of the state's population.

Cochran's supporters actively reminded voters of the senator's work to secure federal funds for programs relied upon by African-Americans, like Head Start and certain medical centers in the state.

It's the kind of message that Republicans barely tout these days, given the renewed focus on fiscal conservatism. But Cochran supporters viewed Democrats as key to their strategy to knock out  state Sen. Chris McDaniel after the incumbent barely kept his reelection hopes alive in the primary.

Mississippi law allows anyone to vote in the runoff, meaning Democrats could go to the polls so long as they didn't vote in the Democratic primary and they don't plan to support their party's candidate in the general election.

But McDaniel and allies argued the tactic was a stretch, and he argued that a high Democratic turnout for Cochran would reveal the senator's true colors.

Final chapter underway in nation's ugliest primary

"I'm not concerned about them being African-American. I'm concerned about them being liberal," he told CNN. "That's always been my concern. If Senator Cochran is going to court liberal Democrats to save his seat, that's a good indication that he's abandoned conservatism in Mississippi."

As Cochran declared victory, McDaniel railed against Cochran's campaign tactic of stirring support among Democrats.

"There is something a bit unusual about a Republican primary decided by liberal Democrats," he said.

"So much for bold colors. So much for principles. I guess they can take some consolation that they did something tonight for once again compromising, for once again reaching across the aisle, for abandoning the conservative movement."

McDaniel added: "If it can happen here, it can happen anywhere. And that's why we will never stop fighting."

Mississippi law doesn't include provisions for election recounts. Any challenge to race results would have to go through the courts.

To make sure Democratic voters weren't voting illegally, conservative groups supportive of McDaniel dispatched volunteers to observe poll workers and whether they're turning away those who already showed up in the Democratic primary.

But that effort raised eyebrows from groups like the NAACP, which sent out its own volunteers to look for any signs of voter intimidation or interference.

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