In a discussion on the June 24 edition of The Cycle regarding the heated Mississippi GOP Senate runoff between U.S. Senator Thad Cochran and state senator Chris McDaniel, MSNBC’s Toure immediately expressed skepticism of the tactics being deployed by the two candidates to appeal to voters.
Toure criticized Thad Cochran for reaching out to Democratic black voters at a time of political convenience because “he hasn't really been reaching out to [them] before now, now that he's fighting for his electoral life, now he's reaching out to them.” While the senator has been widely known for bringing home the bacon to Mississippi voters, those dollars only seem to reach white voters in the eyes of Toure. Then, The Cycle co-host warned that this runoff represented a return to Jim Crow era voter suppression [MP3 audio here; video below]:
And we have this army of volunteer poll watchers coming out to, you know, attend these black polling sites and make sure the vote is legitimate, quote/unquote. I mean, this is taking me back to the '60s and, you know, times when things were not at all like they're supposed to be these days.
To be clear, Toure is referring to plans by president of the Senate Conservatives Fund (SCF), Ken Cuccinelli, to establish poll watchers at some polling locations in Mississippi. The poll watchers would be “taking notes and alerting attorneys if they witnessed what they thought was any unusual activity,” according to Russ Walker, the political director of FreedomWorks who is coordinating with SCF. It should go without saying that designating poll watchers is perfectly legal and is done all over the country by members of both parties. Indeed, President Obama’s reelection campaign mobilized poll watchers in 2012.
Howard Fineman tied this back to the Supreme Court’s ruling last year which hindered the federal government’s ability to monitor voting practices in Southern states: “Well, it's kind of ironic because the Republicans don't want to re-institute the portion of the Voting Rights Act that gave the federal government power to look at voting practices like this.”
Toure’s statements about a return to 1960s Mississippi voting practices are just a little bit hyperbolic given the benign nature of these poll watchers, who are doing nothing more than looking out for any illegal or irregular activity.
The relevant portion of the transcript is below:
June 24, 2014
3:03 p.m. Eastern
KRYSTAL BALL, host: John was just talking there about this Cochran campaign strategy of reaching out in particular to African-American Democratic voters. I wanted to put on the screen an ad that ran in a newspaper that is in a largely African-American area arguing for Thad Cochran, saying he funded 20 free clinics, he funded SNAP, otherwise known as food stamps, and the ag bill, stuff that Republicans these days are not typically running on but trying to make the appeal that he's the moderate sort of person that African-American Democrats should get behind. It's a pretty interesting tactic. Do you think it's going to have any effect in the primary tonight?
HOWARD FINEMAN: Well, certainly the former governor of the state, Haley Barbour, thinks so. And the rest of the Republican establishment there and around the country thinks so. They've poured a tremendous amount of money here in at the end for Thad Cochran. They're looking for any port in the storm. I mean it was very close in the first round. I think anybody who tries to predict this flat out right now is crazy. I think it's going to be extremely close. And Cochran's looking for anything he can get, knowing that there's a risk that McDaniel will use that strategy against him.
BALL: Could be a backlash.
FINEMAN: But it's tricky, it’s tricky for McDaniel because, as John Harwood was saying, most of the voters to whom Cochran's appealing on the Democratic side are African-American. Mcdaniel has to be careful–had to be careful in what he said about that.
TOURE, host: But the whole situation, as Krystal noted, as John noted, it just strikes me as fairly ugly and strange. On the one side, we have Cochran sort of appealing to black voters, who he hasn't really been reaching out to before now, now that he's fighting for his electoral life, now he's reaching out to them. And we have this army of volunteer poll watchers coming out to, you know, attend these black polling sites and make sure the vote is legitimate, quote/unquote. I mean, this is taking me back to the '60s and, you know, times when things were not at all like they're supposed to be these days.
FINEMAN: Well, it's kind of ironic because the Republicans don't want to re-institute the portion of the Voting Rights Act that gave the federal government power to look at voting practices like this. So we have an additional irony here in that the Thad Cochran side wants observers in there, wants to make sure the law is followed and to make sure people aren't intimidated. That's piling irony on irony as he desperately tries to win another term.