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Mississippi GOP Senate Primary Gets Even More Bizarre

Thad Cochran

The Republican primary between six term incumbent Senator Thad Cochran and State Senator Chris McDaniel has, without a doubt, been the most bizarre race of this election cycle, and it’s a candidate for being one of the most bizarre ever. In the beginning, McDaniel was just a Tea Party backed candidate throwing his hat into the ring for the Senate in a state that the GOP would clearly win in November, in fact it wasn’t even clear at the time McDaniel announced that Cochran would be running for re-election. When Cochran confirmed that he was indeed running for a seventh term in the Senate, the race became one of the many “Tea Party v Establishment” battles that we have seen this year, and most outside observers didn’t believe that McDaniel had much chance of unseating a man who had become a political institution in the Magnolia State. For the most part, the polling seemed to confirm that, with most polls showing Cochran in the lead and a few unknown pollsters showing the race as being more competitive than it seemed. Since none of the national pollsters spent money on the race, it’s clear in retrospect that nobody had any idea what was going on in Mississippi.

Three weeks before the primary, though, things really started to get strange. A few weeks earlier, a video had appeared on the Internet that appeared to show Cochran’s wife convalescing in the nursing home where she has been for years due the fact that her dementia makes it impossible for her to live at home. The video was taken down almost immediately, but that wasn’t the last of it. On May 16th, a political blogger who was a supporter of McDaniel’s, although not tied to the campaign according to any available evidence, was arrested and charged with being the person who had taken and posted the video of Cochran’s wife. Within days, three more people, including a prominent local attorney and Vice-Chair of the local Tea Party group, were also arrested. The McDaniel campaign denied any involvement or knowledge of the matter, but questions were raised in the media over what the campaign knew about the arrest and its connection to Cochran’s wife before those matters had been made public.

While the legal proceedings remain pending under mid-July, the nursing home matter played a prominent role in the first round of the primary, with both sides trading accusations. In the end, though, Cochran and McDaniel basically fought to a draw, forcing a runoff that occurred last Tuesday. Cochran, of course, won that runoff rather handily and, much to the consternation of McDaniel supporters, he did so in no small part by bringing voters to the polls who don’t typically vote in Republican primaries, including African-Americans. In the wake of that victory, McDaniel’s supporters have been rather apoplectic even though it is quite apparent that Cochran beat them fair and square, and he did so by the tried and true method of expanding the voting pool.

Rather than conceding defeat, though, McDaniel and his supporters are doubling down. Repeating claims made by bloggers and others, McDaniel is stating publicly that there are “thousands” of voting irregularities. The main claims of irregularities seem to be revolving around people who may have voted in the Democratic Primary in early June voting in the Republican runoff and the fact that there is a provision in the law that states that someone voting in a party primary pledges to support whomever wins the primary in the November election. As to the first claim, there has been no evidence presented that establishes that this occurred, never mind that it occurred in sufficient numbers to impact the outcome of the runoff. Even if those two things could be proven, though, it would be impossible for anyone to determine who those “illegal voters” voted for, or which votes should be invalidated. Mississippi law does not appear to have any provisions for a “do over” election, so McDaniel’s only option here would be in court and it seems implausible that he would be able to present sufficient evidence to convince a judge to both overturn the election and declare him the winner. As to the second point, “loyalty oaths” such as the one that the Mississippi are basically meaningless. As I noted when the Virginia GOP tried to impose one during the 2012 primaries, these oaths are completely unenforceable and likely unconstitutional under the First Amendment.

In the end, though, the claims of “improper voting” by McDaniel and his supporters seems to boil down to the simple fact that they cannot handle the fact that African-American voters came out and voted in the GOP Primary. Even before the vote on Tuesday, there were reports circulating that someone allegedly affiliated with Cochran’s campaign was distributing leaflets in African-American communities accusing McDaniel of being a racist, but these reports have never been corroborated beyond a single picture of a leaflet that has been shared among Tea Party types on social media. There was a a report that some McDaniel supporters were alleging that African-Americans had been given coupons to Popeye’s chicken in exchange for a vote for Cochran, an accusation that is similarly unproven and just dripping with obvious racism. As Ed Kilgore notes in his own review of all these conspiracy theories, even if McDaniel and his supporters don’t mean for their complaints to have a racial component to them, that is most certainly how they are coming across, and in a state like Mississippi, which has one of the largest African-American populations by percentage of any state, that’s playing with fire.

But the post-election whining from McDaniel and his supporters isn’t even the beginning of how weird this election has become.

Yesterday morning, news broke that Mark Mayfield, a well-known Jackson, MS attorney, Tea Party leader, and McDaniel supporter had committed suicide in his home. Mayfield was on of the three men arrested in late May on charges related to the break-on at the nursing home where Thad Cochran’s wife lives, and while there’s absolutely no evidence that his suicide was connected to either that or the election it did not take long for things to head in that direction. One McDaniel campaign staffer laid the blame for Mayfield’s suicide on national Republicans who had supported Cochran, and Dana Loesch, a radio host popular among Tea Party folks nationwide, passed on that claim by saying that  the National Republican Senatorial Committee “had blood on its hands.” All of this comes before anyone even knows why Mayfield killed himself, and during which the only appropriate response should be sympathy for his family and friends.

In the end, it still seems to me that all of this will amount to very little. As Tom Dougherty noted in a post yesterday, the math simply does not support a plausible McDaniel argument for overturning the election results. Mississippi law precludes McDaniel from mounting the write-in campaign, something that Tea Party groups have urged since the loss became official. And, the hopes of Democrats notwithstanding, the odds that Democratic nominee Travis Childers could actually beat Cochran in November are fairly low. At the same time, though, the at times utterly insane manner in which McDaniel and many Tea Party groups and supporters have reacted since the polls closed on Tuesday night makes me wonder if we might just not see national implications from all this, especially if, as expected, the Tea Party loses its last two efforts to unseat Republican incumbents in Tennessee and Kansas. Whatever happens in those cases, there’s simply no way they could ever become as bizarre as what we’ve seen in Mississippi. This is one for the history books, folks

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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. OzarkHillbilly says:

    even if McDaniel and his supporters don’t mean for their complaints to have a racial component to them, that is most certainly how they are coming across, it comes through loud and clear anyway.

    FTFY, happy to be of service, the bill will be coming in the mail.

    Really Doug, they can dress it up any way they like, and you can put as much lipstick as you want on that pig, but it is every bit as racist as a “Colored” sign. I was listening to a Diane Rheem show in the aftermath and they had an a$$hole from Freedom Works on who said, and I quote, they “were not legitimate voters.” Not legitimate Republican voters, but not legitimate voters. It may have been a Freudian slip, but it is revealing as all hell.

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  2. CSK says:

    Trust me; it’s going to get more bizarre. The Tea Parties are incandescent with rage over McDaniel’s loss, and are threatening to work actively for Democratic candidates in the general elections this fall. In particular they’ve targeted McConnell, Alexander, and Kingston and Perdue in Georgia.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  3. Mr. Coffee says:

    @CSK: The Tea Parties are incandescent with rage over McDaniel’s loss, and are threatening to work actively for Democratic candidates in the general elections this fall.

    Some advice for the Tea Pots. Not that they will listen.

    When you are up to your ass in alligators, it’s hard to remember why you started draining the swamp…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 0

  4. beth says:

    @CSK: They may hold their breath and stamp their feet but they will vote for Cochran in the general. in the end, there’s really not a lot of difference between how he votes and how McDaniel would have voted. I don’t remember hearing about all those times Cochran bucked his party and voted with the Democrats…..

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  5. DrDaveT says:

    @CSK:

    The Tea Parties are incandescent with rage over McDaniel’s loss, and are threatening to work actively for Democratic candidates in the general elections this fall.

    Given the competence and effectiveness of most Tea Party campaign efforts, this probably has establishment Republicans high-fiving each other in the Halls of Power.

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  6. Misha says:

    Statewide, state Democratic Chairman Rickey Cole told Breitbart News, “It is very conceivable–it is highly conceivable” that McDaniel and his team “will find a number of irregularities that will reach 6,700 or greater.”

    “You can’t predict these kinds of things,” Cole said when asked if he thinks a challenge from McDaniel would be successful, but “if I were in a race this close, I’d be doing the same thing.”

    Cole said if McDaniel finds at least 6,700 Democrats who voted in the Democrat primary three weeks ago and the GOP runoff on Tuesday, a Mississippi court could actually demand a new election.

    “You don’t have to prove who they voted for,” Cole said. “You just have to prove there were that many ineligible ballots. That puts the intent of the voting public in doubt, and that’s the path by which a court would order a new election.”To make matters even more interesting, Democrats in Hinds County are accusing Cochran’s Hinds County Republicans of illegal activity.

    In an interview with Breitbart News on Thursday, McInnis–the Hinds County Democrats’ top official–said that Perry asked Democrats to help him “break the law” by working together to accept Democratic voters who voted in the June 3 Democratic primary and in Tuesday’s GOP runoff.

    Charging that Perry “has never ran a legal election in this state” because “he was never qualified by the Secretary of State’s office,” McInnis alleged that Perry asked him and county Democrats not to share records of who voted in each primary on June 3. The practice–called “switching the books”–is where, heading into a runoff, Democrats and Republicans swap poll books that list which voters voted in the respective parties’ recent primaries.

    To start a primary, since Mississippi doesn’t technically have party registration, Democrats and Republicans each begin with their own lists of all registered voters. As voters cast ballots, poll workers write “VOTED” next to the names of people who vote in their primaries. If the process heads to a runoff in either or both parties’ primaries, the Democrats switch their books with Republicans and vice versa so poll workers in the runoffs can ensure nobody who voted in the Democratic primary votes in the GOP runoff and vice versa.

    “The Democrats get the Republican book and the Republicans get the Democrat book to protect against crossover voting,” McInnis said. “In Mississippi and a lot of other states, if you voted in the Republican primary, you must only vote in the Republican runoff; you can’t switch.”

    McInnis alleged in an interview with Breitbart News that Connie Cochran, Sen. Cochran’s sister-in-law and the Perry and Hinds County election commissioner, asked local Democrats not to switch the poll books.

    “In the state of Mississippi, you have to take steps to prevent crossover voting,” McInnis said. “If you voted Democrat in the Democratic primary, you can’t vote in the Republican runoff. The way we protect that is we switch the poll books. Pete Perry and Connie Cochran, who’s the chair of the election commission, called us and asked us not to switch the books–which is a clear violation of the law.”

    McInnis told Breitbart News he personally witnessed at least one Hinds County precinct–Precinct 16–where the books had not been switched during the runoff day. “I went out to a precinct to make sure the laws were being followed, and I got there at about 4 o’clock p.m.,” McInnis said. “They had not switched the books, under the influence of the young Republican and Democratic workers there. I demanded that they switch these books immediately. The Democratic poll manager there switched the books at 4 o’clock that evening.”

    McInnis said he thinks Perry engaged in this practice throughout the entire county, but he can’t be sure because Democrats were only allowed inside 15 of the county’s 109 precincts on election day. Two Democrat candidates for the U.S. House third congressional district in Mississippi headed to a runoff, and while Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS) represents most of Hinds County, the third congressional district has 15 precincts inside Hinds County.

    “I think this was county-wide, but we only had 15 precincts because we only had a small runoff in a very small part of the county; we only had 15 precincts in the eastern part of the county,” McInnis said. “The rest of the county had only the Republican runoff, so we had no authority to go to Republican polling places and do anything about it. But in the places we could, we did–because we did not want to be accused of anything with the Republican Party.”

    When asked how Perry could have succeeded in not switching the books–since he and other Democrats refused to cooperate with his request on the grounds that they believed it was illegal–McInnis replied that he worked with Sen. Cochran’s sister-in-law–the election commissioner in Hinds County–to get the job done. “Connie Cochran is the election commissioner,” McInnis said.

    “I can’t tell you if he did this at all the precincts, but I can tell you at the precincts I went to, they didn’t switch the books. I know one woman at one precinct where she had voted in the Democratic primary, but she also was allowed to vote in the Republican runoff. It happened at more than one precinct.”

    McInnis and his fellow Hinds County Democratic Executive Committee member, Chairwoman Jacqueline Amos-Norris, provided Breitbart News with email evidence that Perry and Connie Cochran were trying to not “switch the books” on runoff day. “Connie, unless I send you something in writing, it does not exist,” Norris wrote to Connie Cochran in the email dated June 18, six days before the runoff. “Claude informed me of what Pete said to you about the Poll Books and that’s not true and not legal. If I need to come down, please let me know.”

    What supposedly happened, according to McInnis and Norris, is that Perry told Connie Cochran that McInnis agreed to not switch the books. McInnis and Norris both said that isn’t and wasn’t true, which was why Norris sent that email to Connie Cochran to inform her that it was not true.

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  7. Another Mike says:

    It looks like people who will almost certainly vote Democrat in November crossed over in large numbers to elect Cochran as the Republican candidate. The really distasteful thing is that it seems that the national Republican leadership encouraged this. They have no use for the Tea Party. The things is that the Tea Party may decide that it has no use for the Republican oligarchy and they just don’t go to the polls in November. It could make a difference in a tight race.

    I think McDaniel is wasting his time contesting this election. As was said, even if 10,000 voters voted in the Democrat primary and then crossed over and voted again in the Republican runoff, whose to say who they voted for. Ok, this loss stings especially bad, but dragging this thing out is going to hurt McDaniel in the end.

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  8. CSK says:

    @Another Mike:

    Can you blame them for not having much use for the Tea Party? The Tea Party cost them control of the senate in 2010, and 12 out of 16 TP candidates in 2012 lost.

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  9. Nikki says:

    GOP CIVIL WAR!!

    Couldn’t have happened to a more deserving bunch of dicks.

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  10. Another Mike says:

    @CSK:

    Can you blame them for not having much use for the Tea Party? The Tea Party cost them control of the senate in 2010, and 12 out of 16 TP candidates in 2012 lost.

    And they were doing so much better without the Tea Party? The Tea Party gave them the House in 2010. Without the Tea Party the Republicans would be parking cars in Washington.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 6

  11. stonetools says:

    So far as I can tell, McDaniel’s complaint is that:,
    “You sicced the n!ggers on us! This primary was supposed to be a white man’s fight.”
    The only problem here is that Mississipi is so wingnut Republican that there is no way the Democrat Childers can take advantage of the divisions and squeak out a win. Bottom line is that I am out of d@mns to give about this squabble between Confederates.

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  12. mattbernius says:

    and the fact that there is a provision in the law that states that someone voting in a party primary pledges to support whomever wins the primary in the November election

    For the record, even *if* this was enforceable, I think Cochran would have a strong case that — based on their rhetoric and behavior after the loss — many of McDaniels supporters were not planning on supporting him in the election if he won the Primary. Therefore their votes would be *equally* suspect.

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  13. mattbernius says:

    @Another Mike:

    As was said, even if 10,000 voters voted in the Democrat primary and then crossed over and voted again in the Republican runoff, whose to say who they voted for.

    As long as the number of illegal voters was more than the margin of victory a reelection should occur. Simply put, it doesn’t matter *who* they voted for, just simply that they *did* vote.

    On a different topic:

    And they were doing so much better without the Tea Party? The Tea Party gave them the House in 2010.

    There are two problems with this line of thought. First it ignores the fact that historically, in off year elections, the party out of power gains seats. Note, in fact, that the Dems only took the House in an off year election (2006). So chances were the Republicans were going to retake the House no matter what.

    Further, there is *substantial evidence* that the Tea Party also cost the Republicans control of the Senate in 2010.

    So I’m not sure the argument that the Republicans have better luck with them holds water.

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  14. Janis Gore says:

    I have real problems with anything that’s reported on Breitbart, without a straight and complete tape of the interview. I have to depend on the Jackson Clarion-Ledger: http://www.clarionledger.com/story/news/politics/2014/06/27/mcdaniel-cochran-jackson-hinds/11471857/

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  15. CSK says:

    @Janis Gore:

    Breitbart was heavily pushing the notion that Cochran had callously abandoned his wife in a nursing home in order to pursue an affair with his administrative assistant. They had no solid evidence of this. But they were determined to get Cochran out of office no matter how low they had to stoop.

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  16. Janis Gore says:

    What have I said many times? The Tea Party thinks about sex so much they don’t have much time for anything else.

    Sounds pretty boring to me.

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  17. Janis Gore says:

    If the weather weren’t so nasty I’d drive down to Natchez and see what the scuttlebutt is. There were rumors abroad about a certain Chris McDaniels and….

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  18. Another Mike says:

    @CSK:

    Breitbart was heavily pushing the notion that Cochran had callously abandoned his wife in a nursing home in order to pursue an affair with his administrative assistant.

    Do you have a reference for this statement? Seems like pretty dastardly behavior, if true. Or libelous, if not true.

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  19. James Pearce says:

    @Another Mike: It’s all on Breitbart’s site, which I don’t recommend viewing unless you have your adblock on and your virus scanner in good working order.

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  20. CSK says:

    @Another Mike:

    Well, you could start with this one: “Thad Cochran’s Executive Assistant Accompanied Him to 42 Countries on 33 Taxpayer-Funded Trips” in the May 12, 2014 Breitbart.

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  21. sam says:

    @beth:

    [I]n the end, there’s really not a lot of difference between how he votes and how McDaniel would have voted. I don’t remember hearing about all those times Cochran bucked his party and voted with the Democrats…..

    Well, all politics is local, right? Cochran has been pretty successful in funnelling federal dollars intto Mississippi, big ol’ nasty federal gubmint notwithstanding.. I heard Mark Shields on NPR last night say that McDaniel ran on the novel premise that he would do less for Mississippi than Cochran. Not a winning strategy in a state that would sink absent the federal life-preserver.

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  22. Janis Gore says:

    The dreaded MSM:

    Jackson Clarion-Ledger:

    http://www.clarionledger.com/story/news/2014/02/23/mcdaniels-katrina-response-lacked-sense/5736191/

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