Make no mistake: Chris McDaniel (R) walks into tonight's Mississippi Senate primary runoff the favorite. That's the assessment of just about every Republican operative keeping a close eye on the race -- even those friendly with Sen. Thad Cochran (R). With that in mind, some GOP operatives are already starting to contemplate what would happen if McDaniel makes it to the general election.
-- The oppo hits leveled against the state senator will leave a mark to last long after Tuesday. State party leaders, the Barbours, and officials at the NRSC have done everything from calling McDaniel a criminal to linking him with white supremacists. Just as bad: They've said repeatedly that should McDaniel win the nomination, Travis Childers (D) could go on to win in the fall.
-- Democrats think Childers could potentially beat McDaniel, too (though it would be very difficult; notably, most strategists rank Mississippi as a much less promising pick-up opportunity than either Kentucky or Georgia). And they're delighted because the GOP's attempts to paint McDaniel as an extremist isn't a message that needs any tweaking for the fall. If the goal is to win over 100,000 or so Cochran supporters, Democrats might start by simply duplicating an ad Cochran's campaign is running now.
-- In the weeks after Tuesday's runoff, watch to see if McDaniel is able to reconcile with any part of the Cochran campaign, the NRSC, or maybe most importantly, Haley Barbour himself. Any such meeting of the minds would be a big symbol for Mississippi voters and no doubt offer a boost to his fundraising. Republicans have made awkward relationships like this work before: Just remember Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul in 2010.
McDaniel's best asset is that he'd still be running in Mississippi, in a midterm year, at a time when President Obama's approval numbers are nearly dipping into the 30s in some polls. But even in a good state and strong environment, there could be a lot of drama there the next five months -- if McDaniel does, in fact, win Tuesday night.
-- Alex Roarty