Conservative challenger Chris McDaniel leads incumbent Sen. Thad Cochran 49.6 percent to 49.5 percent

The big election last night was the incredibly close Mississippi Senate primary. As of this morning with 99.5 percent of precincts reporting conservative challenger Chris McDaniel leads incumbent Sen. Thad Cochran 49.6 percent to 49.5 percent. If neither gets a majority there will be a run off in a few weeks.

If McDaniel ends up winning it will be labeled a rare victory for the Tea Party this cycle, although that term has become mostly meaningless now that it is basically a catch all for any conservative activists or outside groups that are to the right of establishment Republicans. But judging the conservative organization’s success based purely on the number of elections won this year versus last year provides a very misguided view of their effectiveness.

The dominant horserace style of political coverage isn’t the proper way to judge people or an organization with mainly policy goals.

Electing more ideologically conservative senators would obviously help advance their agenda, but if they can scare other establishment senators into voting the way they want it’s basically just as good. Races like the primary against Mitch McConnell were labeled a loss for the Tea Party but McConnell only won by being extremely conservative. From a policy perspective many of the outside organization got what they wanted.

These groups don’t need to win often to have significant policy influence. They just need to shows they have the resources, are willing to put up a fight, and are a potential threat by occasionally winning. They still meet all three criteria this year.

Winning fewer election doesn’t automatically mean a lose or waning influence for an organization, if they lose elections because their opponents adopt all their positions.