Cochran clinging to razor-thin lead over Tea Party challenger

Sen. Thad CochranThad CochranMomentum builds for Clyburn poverty plan 'Hardball' Pentagon memo creates firestorm Insiders dominate year of the outsider MORE (R-Miss.) is holding a remarkable but razor-thin lead over primary challenger Chris McDaniel in their brutal runoff fight.

Nearly three hours after the polls closed in Mississippi, and with 95 percent of precincts reporting, Cochran held about a 2,500-vote lead over McDaniel.

If he manages to pull out a win, Cochran would take Mississippi off the map for Democrats, who saw an opening in the deep-red state if the controversial McDaniel, a state senator, had nabbed the nomination. 

And he’d deliver a devastating blow to the Tea Party, which had enjoyed a burst of much-needed energy after McDaniel forced the runoff and House Majority Leader Eric CantorEric CantorRyan seeks to avoid Boehner fate on omnibus GOPers fear trillion-dollar vote is inevitable Insiders dominate year of the outsider MORE (R-Va.) suffered a surprise primary loss two weeks ago.

Conservatives were already facing disappointments in other states on Tuesday night, with Rep. James Lankford (R-Okla.) toppling conservative pick T.W. Shannon in the Oklahoma Senate Republican primary,  and Rep. Richard Hanna (R-N.Y.) looking likely to beat back a close primary challenge from Tea Party-backed Claudia Tenney.

But a Cochran win would take the wind out of the Tea Party’s sails and send it back to the drawing board in search of a new kind of message and a new kind of candidate.