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It Just Keeps Getting Weirder In Mississippi

Thad Cochran Chris McDaniel

If  you thought that the story of the Mississippi GOP Senate Primary was over, you haven’t been paying attention. When we last left the story, Chris McDaniel and his Tea Party supporters had just begun making a series of bizarre allegations against Cochran and the way he won the election that seemed focused mostly on the fact that the campaign succeeded in part by appealing to African-American voters who don’t typically vote in Republican primaries. Since then, McDaniel has begin fundraising off of the claim that there were voting irregularities in appeals that seem to at least hint at the idea that he would be filing a lawsuit to challenge the election. A conservative organization called TrueTheVote has already filed a lawsuit alleging voting irregularities. Various conservative “journalists” have made their way to the Magnolia State to cover the story, and yesterday things took another bizarre turn when someone disrupted what was supposed to have been a Cochran campaign conference call with the media:

A conference call set up by the campaign for U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran devolved into a shouting match and then ended, after which time supporters of GOP primary challenger Chris McDaniel chatted for a bit.

California-based blogger Charles C. Johnson posted the call-in number on Twitter and encouraged people to call in and crash the call. He succeeded.

Cochran campaign advisor Austin Barbour started the conference call normally. After a few minutes of talking about working with McDaniel volunteers in the Hinds County courthouse reviewing ballots and how the campaign set up its GOTV effort, an unidentified male started asking about harvesting cotton and black votes. (The call was aimed at national and other media who could not make their Jackson presser.)

Barbour tried to continue on, but he was repeatedly cut off by the man. Eventually Barbour and Cochran spokesman Jordan Russell told media that they could be reached by email or cell phone and then hung up.

Afterward, McDaniel supporters talked a bit criticizing the guy who asked about harvesting black votes. They were worried that media would report that the guy was a McDaniel supporter. One female McDaniel supporter suggested the guy was a Cochran supporter planted to make the McDaniel campaign sound racist.

Callers, including some who identified themselves as McDaniel supporters, agreed that if the guy was a McDaniel supporter himself, he had done the state senator no favors with the racist remarks.

A couple of reporters asked if the guy was Johnson. Two people on the call who identified themselves later as McDaniel supporters said it was not Johnson. (Based on hearing Johnson talking before the call started, it did not sound like him at all. And if my guess is right, it’s a well known racist who is still stuck on the 2001 flag vote.)

Finally an unidentified woman came on and the call was likely being recorded and that the best thing McDaniel supporters on the call could do is get off the phone. At that time, several people said their goodbyes and then got off.

Here’s the audio of the call:

Johnson was previously in the news as the writer of a piece at The Daily Caller alleging that Cory Booker didn’t really live at the Newark, N.J. he claimed as his official residence in a story that appeared shortly before the Special Election for Senate that Booker won handily last October. Later, it was revealed that Johnson was working for an anti-Booker PAC at the time he wrote that article. Since the runoff election, Johnson  been down in Mississippi since the election stirring up trouble, most often via unsubstantiated claims made on his Twitter account, but also on his own website. Most recently, he posted a report based on interviews with an African-American Pastor who claims that he was given money by the Cochran campaign to get African-Americans to vote, with the obvious suggestion that he was then paying people to go to the polls. That report was picked up by the popular conservative web site Red State and quickly made its way around the internet. As Kevin Boyd points out in his own article about these new allegations, though, there are plenty of questions about the veracity of this report. For one thing, the person who claims he was paid by the campaign has been involved in several cases involving home repair fraud in the past, thus calling his own ability to tell the truth into account. For another, Johnson has admitted that he paid for the interview, something that most credible journalists never do, but refuses to discuss how much he paid for the same. Finally, even if it is true that money changed hands before the election, the more likely explanation is that this was intended by the campaign to be used as part of normal get out the vote efforts, such as covering the costs of driving people to the polls and such. There’s no proof in anything Johnson reported that the Cochran campaign was involved in some kind of scheme to bribe African-Americans to vote for him.

As I have noted in previous posts, there is virtually no chance that anything McDaniel and his supporters do will overturn the results of the runoff election. From a political point of view, the smartest thing for McDaniel to do would have been to graciously accept defeat and move on, with the idea being that perhaps he’d run for higher office in the future. As Seth Michaels notes, though, that’s unlikely to happen:

McDaniel and his backers are like the proverbial fish that doesn’t know it’s wet; they swim so deeply in their right-wing milieu that the idea that they could lose an election fairly doesn’t cross their mind.

And there’s an even uglier undercurrent to all of this, centered around the fact that Cochran specifically reached out not just to Democratic voters, but to black voters (and in deeply polarized Mississippi, the Venn diagram of those two groups is almost a circle). With radio, phone calls and mail, Cochran made the case in Mississippi’s most heavily black counties that they should come out in the runoff to ensure that it would be Cochran, not McDaniel, as the GOP nominee in this very red state.

And it worked. Cochran’s biggest gains came in heavily black counties around Jackson and the Delta region, and turnout actually increased from the primary to the runoff. “They targeted voters outside the universe of likely voters in a Republican primary,” writes David Jarman, “that meant explicitly trying to make inroads among African-American voters…it seemed like a Hail Mary at the time … but looking at Tuesday night’s election results, it very clearly worked.”

The outrage among McDaniel voters goes beyond just sore-loserdom. Right-wingers’ assertion that Cochran’s votes were “invalid” tie into long-standing issues around black citizenship and black participation. You can see it in the hysteria over “vote fraud” in elections and even in the demands to see President Obama’s “long-form” birth certificate. You can see it in some McDaniel supporters’ insistence that black votes must have been bought, or “harvested…like cotton,” as a McDaniel supporter said on a Cochran campaign conference call. And the less said about Rush Limbaugh’s response, the better.

Jamelle Bouie notes that the McDaniel camp’s thinly-veiled implications have a long history. “For as long as blacks have been able to vote, there have been politicians who sought their support,” Bouie says, “and for just as long, there have been critics who called it unfair.”

As I said in a previous post, the racial angle may not be what McDaniel and his supporters actually intend to communicate here, although after that phone call its impossible to deny that it is playing a role in all of this, but that’s how its coming across. At this point, though, nothing that McDaniel, or Johnson, or any of the others will do is going to change the outcome of the election. What it can possible do is one of two things. First, it could so widen the rift in the Mississippi GOP that Cochran ends up losing the General Election in November, although that seems highly unlikely. Second, this entire bizarre episode only serves to reinforce the arguments that Democrats make about the right and its relationship to minorities, especially the minority community. Many national Republicans clearly recognize this, and they are clearly distancing themselves from McDaniel at this point. However, if his efforts and the rhetoric of his supporters end up tainting the party as a whole that’s going to do a lot of damage to the efforts of the GOP to reach out to minority groups.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Ron Beasley says:

    A Democratic Senator from Mississippi? Could happen if this insanity continues. The tea party strikes again.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 1

  2. Moosebreath says:

    Part of the problem seems to be that in the internet age, the penalties for making up stuff seems to be non-existant, as Johnson seems to be treated as reputable in spite of considerable evidence that he is not.

    Perhaps we need to re-think the concept that the marketplace of ideas will necessarily lead to better information flows.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 3

  3. Rob Prather says:

    I agree it’s highly unlikely that the Democrat (Childers) will win, but there’s very little daylight between Childers and Cochran. Childers will lose because he has a D after his name.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  4. Rob in CT says:

    “Strange” is a rather polite way of describing it. Showcasing the cranky racism of some MS Tea Partiers is my less charitable description.

    Do proceed, ladies and gentlemen!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 1

  5. Matt Bernius says:

    @Moosebreath:

    Part of the problem seems to be that in the internet age, the penalties for making up stuff seems to be non-existant, as Johnson seems to be treated as reputable in spite of considerable evidence that he is not.

    I humbly suggest that the fact that certain partisan “news” outlets (Daily Caller, Breitbart) treat Johnson as “reputable” tells us far more about those outlets reputability than anything else.

    I expect this is going to go on for a while in Mississippi. The circumstances of the loss combined with the relatively poor performance by Tea Party candidates this cycle make this the perfect location for the expression of the Tea Party’s primal rage.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 14 Thumb down 1

  6. KM says:

    Right-wingers’ assertion that Cochran’s votes were “invalid” tie into long-standing issues around black citizenship and black participation.

    No kidding.

    “Quick question,” said the caller, who did not identify himself. “Since black people harvested cotton, why is it OK to harvest their votes? Why is it OK to harvest the votes of black people?”

    After Barbour largely ignored the question, the questioner asked again: “If black people were harvesting cotton, why do you think it’s OK to harvest their votes?”

    Asked repeatedly. Not a slip of the tongue, not a badly phrased thought. A deliberate, intentional attempt to bring race into it. For all screaming that its about Democrats cross-voting or double-dipping, complainers are really really going out of their way to point out the color of the “offenders” with such loaded words.

    This isn’t shooting yourself in the foot or even in the head. This is a nuke you strapped to yourself in an attempt to blackmail people going off unplanned. The Tea Party is honest to god planning to burn down the whole house to get the tiny mouse.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 15 Thumb down 1

  7. Rob in CT says:

    @KM:

    In addition to the race angle, that quote is total arglebargle. It makes zero sense, but the person asking the question really seems to think it’s some sort of brilliant analogy.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  8. Moosebreath says:

    @Matt Bernius:

    “I humbly suggest that the fact that certain partisan “news” outlets (Daily Caller, Breitbart) treat Johnson as “reputable” tells us far more about those outlets reputability than anything else.”

    Maybe, but that hardly resolves the problem I pointed out. It’s not like their reputation is causing them to lose eyeballs.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  9. KM says:

    @Rob in CT:

    In addition to the race angle, that quote is total arglebargle. It makes zero sense, but the person asking the question really seems to think it’s some sort of brilliant analogy.

    If my BatSh$t Insane -> English translation is correct it should read as “Since black people were once enslaved, treated as objects and forced to harvest cotton by jerks I may or may not associate with/idolize, why is it OK for me to wrongly perceive people freely convinced to vote for you as you to treating them as enslaved objects and forcing them to vote for you, thus making you the same kind of jerk that I secretly wish I be and could get away with? Why are you getting away with something in my head that I get called racist for if I try it?”

    Of course my accent may need work. It’s a hard language on the head and tongue….

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 1

  10. Matt Bernius says:

    @Moosebreath:

    Maybe, but that hardly resolves the problem I pointed out. It’s not like their reputation is causing them to lose eyeballs.

    But this *isn’t* a new phenomena. Or necessarily reserved to a specific political party/ideology.

    People have always wanted “facts” that speak to their personal confirmation biases.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  11. Moosebreath says:

    @Matt Bernius:

    “But this *isn’t* a new phenomena.”

    I suspect it has gotten much worse, as there are fewer editors serving as gatekeepers and the threshold to get one’s views published has been reduced by essentially free publishing through blogs, etc.

    “Or necessarily reserved to a specific political party/ideology.”

    I didn’t say it was, nor do I believe it is.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  12. Matt Bernius says:

    @Moosebreath:

    I suspect it has gotten much worse, as there are fewer editors serving as gatekeepers and the threshold to get one’s views published has been reduced by essentially free publishing through blogs, etc.

    Its gotten worse since the mid-century high mark in supposedly “objective news.”

    Generally speaking, we have returned to the historic form of the partisan press in the United States prior to the development of the “professional” journalist in the early 20th century.

    As I’ve written here before, news as many of us understand it, was a historical aberration versus the historic standard.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  13. Tillman says:

    Classy.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  14. It’s going to be hilarious if, for the third cycle in a row, the tea party’s primary contribution to national politics is to keep the Senate in democrat hands by unintentionally sabotaging Republican senate races.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 1

  15. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Second, this entire bizarre episode only serves to reinforce the arguments that Democrats make about the right and its relationship to minorities, especially the minority community.

    Here’s the thing tho, blacks and hispanics are very fluent in dogwhistle, they already know what the GOP thinks of them. Been listening to it all their lives. It is whites like us who grew up with the dogwhistle and were told while we were still tiny tots that it had nothing to do with race, and believed that claptrap, who are now shocked and going,

    “WHOA!!!! LOOK AT THE RACIST RUBES!!”

    Meanwhile blacks are saying, “SO? Tell us something we didn’t already know.”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 1

  16. grumpy realist says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: In an equivalent case, look at what the rightists have been saying about the Hobby Lobby decision. A lot of women are saying “yep, we knew that was what you nitwits thought of us all the time.”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 1