Incumbent Republican Thad Cochran might be the candidate who is facing Democrat Travis Childers in the Nov. 3 Senate election, but Chris McDaniel, Cochran’s primary opponent, continues to be in the spotlight.
While McDaniel is seeking to have a court declare him the winner of the Republican primary, his campaign has been named in a summons that is connected to a possible vote-buying scheme and also involves a political blogger from California and a pastor from Meridian.
Mississippi state Sen. McDaniel had a team assembled to document alleged voting irregularities during the June 3 Republican primary and the June 24 runoff with six-term incumbent Cochran.
He filed the 243-page report with the state’s Republican Party and that challenge was denied. The state senator will now have to file his case in any county courthouse, but the case is expected to reach the state’s Supreme Court, according to the Clarion-Ledger. McDaniel’s legal team presented the report to supporters at a news conference outside the Jackson office of attorney Mitch Tyner, who is working with McDaniel on the challenge. McDaniel had until Thursday to file his challenge.
According to the Sun Herald, state party chairman Joe Nosef told McDaniel’s legal team that they would have to hear the issue of the contest in one day before the state senator’s deadline to go to the legal system and that would not be enough time.
The state senator’s challenge, according to the Clarion-Ledger, was an attempt to prove with voting records, a post-election poll and media reports of mistakes that the June 24 runoff was stolen from him.
“They asked us to put up or shut up and here we are with the evidence,” McDaniel said at an Aug. 4 news conference in Jackson.
McDaniel alleged in his complaint that 27 counties counted absentee votes that did not meet the requirements of the election code and also alleged that 12 counties failed to certify the results of the June 24 runoff in the time required by the state.
McDaniel stated in the complaint that Hinds County had denied his representatives access to election records on July 7 since it had not yet certified the June 24 runoff. Those were certified after business hours on July 7.
Regardless of which county did what, the Mississippi Secretary of State’s Office is staying away from this issue.
“Because the challenger’s campaign has not requested a new election, but to be declared the winner by the Republican Party, circuit clerks, election commissioners, our agency and Mississippi taxpayers should not be party to any subsequent lawsuits,” Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann said in an Aug. 7 statement. “This will save untold amounts of taxpayer dollars in unnecessary litigation costs.”
“As we have said before, this is a party primary, not conducted by the state, and is solely a party issue which will now be resolved by the courts.”
On Thursday, Aug. 14, McDaniel filed the challenge in Jones County. The Mississippi state Supreme Court will appoint a special judge to handle the case.
“Republicans did not elect the nominee on June 24,” he said in a news release from his campaign. “So, we are excited for the opportunity for Republicans to reclaim their primary process.”
“This challenge is not about the candidates. It is about the integrity of Mississippi’s election process and we are committed to ensuring that process is accurate and fair for future Republican candidates.”
To help finance the case, McDaniel is once again turning to supporters for help.
“The fight won’t be easy, and it won’t be cheap,” the state senator said in an email to supporters. “The fight isn’t just about my Senate campaign. It’s about honesty, transparency, and the integrity of the Republican Party’s nomination process.”
However, the challenge of the election is only one part of what’s happening with the McDaniel camp, as spokesperson Noel Fritsch was named in a subpoena.
Charles C. Johnson, a political blogger from California, was ordered to appear before a Lauderdale County grand jury in Meridian on Sept. 22 in connection with a suspected felony – and one of the things he was supposed to turn over were records of any conversations he has had with McDaniel’s spokesperson.
According to the Clarion-Ledger, Johnson had initially put a photo of his copy of the summons on his Twitter account and later removed it. The newspaper has a photo of the possible summons on its website.
On the form that was pictured, it states that he was not to disclose its existence since it might impede the investigation.
Fritsch told the newspaper that he was not fazed about his name appearing in the summons and had not been contacted by state or Lauderdale County authorities.
The summons also states that Johnson is to turn over any records regarding an interview with Meridian pastor Stevie Fielder.
According to Mississippi Public Broadcasting, Fielder said in an interview with Johnson that he was allegedly asked to participate in a vote-buying scheme by a Cochran staffer.
That was not true, according to Cochran’s spokesperson Jordan Russell.
“Well, it’s just not true,” Russell told MPB. “It’s another in a long list of lies and made up allegations that the McDaniel people are using to try and throw against he wall to try to question the validity of an election that Senator Cochran won fair and square.”