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Mississippi Supreme Court ends Chris McDaniel’s challenge in GOP U.S. Senate runoff

State’s highest court upholds lower court ruling that McDaniel waited too long to file suit

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

mississippi mugJACKSON, Mississippi (CFP) — The Mississippi Supreme Court has ended State Senator Chris McDaniel’s attempt to overturn his loss in the state’s GOP primary runoff for the U.S. Senate to incumbent Senator Thad Cochran.

In a 4-to-2 decision handed down October 24, the state’s highest court agreed with a lower court that McDaniel waited too long to challenge the results from the June 24 runoff.

State Senator Chris McDaniel

State Senator Chris McDaniel

While saying McDaniel disagreed with the decision, his attorney, Mitch Tyner, issued a statement saying that the ruling would allow Mississippi conservatives to “move forward into 2015.”

The Cochran campaign issued a statement saying the ruling “reconfirms the voters’ choice of Thad Cochran as the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate.”

Certified results from the June 24 runoff showed McDaniel losing to Cochran by just 7,667 votes.

McDaniel led Cochran in the first round of voting on June 3. But the Cochran campaign came from behind by making direct appeals to Democratic and independent voters to cross over and vote in the runoff — a move that enraged McDaniel’s supporters.

U.S. Senator Thad Cochran

U.S. Senator Thad Cochran

About 67,000 more people voted in the runoff than in the primary, and in Hinds County — which includes the predominantly black city of Jackson — Cochran’s margin of victory was 11,000 votes, nearly double what it was in the first round.

State law only allows voters to cross over to vote in the Republican runoff if they didn’t vote in the Democratic primary in the first round. McDaniel’s campaign contended that there were enough improper crossover votes to alter the outcome of the election.

The bitter Senate race in Mississippi pitted Cochran and the state’s Republican establishment against Tea Party activists and outside conservative groups — such as the Senate Conservatives FundFreedomWorks and the Club for Growth — that strongly backed McDaniel.

Cochran was one of five Southern Republican senators targeted in primaries this year. All five survived.

Cochran is facing former Democratic U.S. Rep. Travis Childers in the general election. Polls show him with a double-digit lead.

Chris McDaniel wants Mississippi GOP to name him winner of U.S. Senate runoff

McDaniel slams supporters of U.S. Senator Thad Cochran for “dirty tricks”

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

mississippi mugJACKSON, Mississippi (CFP) — Citing widespread voting irregularities, State Senator Chris McDaniel is asking the Mississippi Republican Party to overturn the results of the June 24 primary runoff and declare him the U.S. Senate nominee instead of incumbent Senator Thad Cochran.

State Senator Chris McDaniel

State Senator Chris McDaniel

“They asked us to put up or shut up. Here we are. Here we are with the evidence,” McDaniel said at an August 4 press conference. “What we’re going to show is a pattern of conduct on the part of a number of people that demonstrates a problem with this election. The evidence is clear.”

“We saw the dirty tricks. We saw the dirty money come from Washington D.C.,” he said. “Through the actions they took, they moved more than 40,000 Democrats into the Republican primary, and in so doing, mistakes were made.”

McDaniel led Cochran in the first round of voting on June 3. But after making direct appeals to Democratic and independent voters to cross over and vote in the runoff, Cochran erased McDaniel’s lead and won by 7,667 votes.

About 67,000 more people voted in the runoff than in the primary, and in Hinds County — which includes the predominantly black city of Jackson — Cochran’s margin of victory was 11,000 votes, nearly double what it was in the first round.

State law only allows voters to cross over to vote in the Republican runoff if they didn’t vote in the Democratic primary in the first round. McDaniel’s attorney, Mitch Tyner, said there were at least 3,500 crossover votes that should not have been allowed.

Tyner also said another 9,500 votes were “irregular,” and 2,275 absentee ballots were improperly cast. Those votes, together, are more than Cochran’s margin of victory.

McDaniel is asking the executive committee of the Mississippi Republican Party to declare him the winner, rather than calling for a new election.

“We anticipate that after they review the challenge that they’ll see Chris McDaniel clearly, clearly won the Republican vote on the runoff,” Tyner said. He said the state party doesn’t rule on the challenge in 10 days, McDaniel will go to court to overturn the election.

McDaniel also asked the executive committee to hold a public hearing to consider the evidence his supporters have collected.

“This is an opportunity for our party to take the lead on honest, good and transparent government,” he said.

U.S. Senator Thad Cochran

U.S. Senator Thad Cochran

Responding to McDaniel’s challenge, Mark Garriga, an attorney for Cochran’s campaign, said “we are dedicated to the defense of the votes of those Mississippians who voted on June 24 for Thad Cochran as their United States Senator, an election which has been as thoroughly reviewed and examined as any in modern Mississippi history.”

“The filing of this challenge marks the point where this matter moves from an arena of press conferences and rhetoric into a setting where nothing matters but admissible evidence and the rule of law,” Garriga said in a statement.

The bitter Senate race in Mississippi pitted Cochran and the state’s Republican establishment against Tea Party activists and outside conservative groups — such as the Senate Conservatives FundFreedomWorks and the Club for Growth — that strongly backed McDaniel.

Cochran was one of five Southern Republican senators targeted in primaries this year. Four of them survived, with a fifth race to be decided August 7 in Tennessee.

View video of McDaniel’s press conference:

Analysis: Why Chris McDaniel’s fight won’t succeed even if it does

The best possible outcome — overturning his primary loss — won’t get him to the U.S. Senate

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

Mississippi State Senator Chris McDaniel and his supporters are still seething over his primary runoff loss to veteran U.S. Senator Thad Cochran, particularly vexed by the fact that the only way Cochran survived was with Democratic cross-over votes.

In the weeks since the runoff, McDaniel has been making noise about a court challenge to the result and has even been raising money to pay for it. His camp claims to have evidence of more than 8,000 questionable votes — a number of voters larger than Cochran’s margin of victory.

State Senator Chris McDaniel

State Senator Chris McDaniel

Such a court challenge might be satisfying for people who think they were cheated out of a much anticipated victory. But would it be wise?

Consider the best possible outcome for McDaniel. It is exceedingly unlikely that a judge would just toss the result and hand the GOP nomination to McDaniel. A more possible (but not likely) scenario is that a judge throws out the primary result and orders the runoff to be rerun.

Assume, for the sake of argument, that McDaniel wins the third time around. He would be the nominee of a fiercely divided party. The atmosphere between his supporters and Cochran’s would be poisonous. The Democratic nominee, former U.S. Rep. Travis Childers, would be in the driver’s seat come November.

In that case, the Republican nomination would be a thing not worth having. And McDaniel would take the blame.

An even worse possible outcome for McDaniel would be to try to overturn the result and lose. Right now, he has political capital from being perceived as a wronged party. He still has a future in statewide politics. But if he drags Mississippi Republicans through a bitter fight, that capital vanishes.

History gives us two examples that are pertinent here.

In 1960, Richard Nixon narrowly  lost the presidency under questionable circumstances. But he decided not to contest the results. Eight years later, he was president.

In 2000, Al Gore decided to put America through Florida recount hell, even though he knew he was unlikely to prevail. It was the end of his political career.

Nixonian behavior is not normally recommended. But there are times when the best thing to do in a bad situation is just walk away, no matter how unfair it might seem at the time.

Chris McDaniel raises money for suit to overturn Mississippi GOP U.S. Senate runoff

McDaniel says his June 24 runoff loss to U.S. Senator Thad Cochran was a “sham” with “illegal voting” by Democrats

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

mississippi mugJACKSON, Mississippi (CFP) — In the clearest sign yet that State Senator Chris McDaniel isn’t going quietly into the political sunset, he has sent an email to supporters asking for money to pay for a lawsuit to overturn the results of Mississippi’s June 24 GOP runoff for U.S. Senate.

State Senator Chris McDaniel

State Senator Chris McDaniel

“Thanks to illegal voting from liberal Democrats, my opponent stole last week’s runoff election, but I’m not going down without a fight,” McDaniel said.

“We’ve already found thousands of irregularities in the voting process. According to Mississippi state law, Democrats who voted in the Democratic primary cannot vote in the Republican runoff, and that is exactly what happened.”

McDaniel asked supporters to contribute at least $50 for what he described as a “long fight” to overturn the runoff.

After narrowly beating U.S. Senator Thad Cochran in the first found of primary voting on June 3, McDaniel lost to the veteran incumbent by about 6,700 votes in the runoff.

U.S. Senator Thad Cochran

U.S. Senator Thad Cochran

Cochran’s campaign made direct appeals to Democratic and independent voters to support him in the runoff, which they were free to do if they hadn’t already voted in the Democratic primary.

The results of the second round of voting showed how well that strategy worked. About 67,000 more people voted in the runoff than in the primary, and in Hinds County — which includes the predominantly black city of Jackson — Cochran’s margin of victory was 11,000 votes, nearly double what it was in the first round.

The race in Mississippi pitted Cochran and the state’s Republican establishment against Tea Party activists and outside conservative groups — such as the Senate Conservatives FundFreedomWorks and the Club for Growth — that strongly backed McDaniel.

Outside groups on both sides poured millions in advertising into the Magnolia State, clogging its relatively inexpensive airwaves.

McDaniel and his conservative Tea Party supporters cried foul over Cochran’s cross-party strategy, and he has refused to concede defeat. A conservative watchdog group, True the Vote, has already filed a federal lawsuit to overturn the election.

In another bizarre twist in this bitter race, Mark Mayfield, a McDaniel supporter who was arrested during the campaign for his alleged role in videotaping Cochran’s invalid wife in her nursing home, committed suicide after McDaniel’s runoff loss.

Cochran is one of five sitting Southern GOP senators targeted for defeat by Tea Party activists and outside conservative groups. So far, Cochran and three other incumbents have survived, with one contest still to come in August in Tennessee.

If his runoff win holds up, Cochran will face Democratic former U.S. Rep. Travis Childers in the fall.

Thad Cochran survives Mississippi Senate runoff

In Oklahoma, U.S. Rep. James Lankford wins Republican nomination for open U.S. Senate seat

mississippi mugJACKSON, Mississippi (CFP) — Buoyed by an influx of support from Democratic and independent voters, U.S. Senator Thad Cochran has turned back a bitter GOP primary challenge in Mississippi, defeating State Senator Chris McDaniel.

U.S. Senator Thad Cochran

U.S. Senator Thad Cochran

Cochran, 76, took 51 percent of the vote in the June 24 runoff, compared to 49 percent for McDaniel. The runoff was triggered when neither man captured a majority in the first round of voting June 3.

“We all have the right to be proud of our state tonight,” Cochran told his jubilant supporters. “Thank you for this wonderful honor and wonderful challenge that lies ahead.”

But a clearly unhappy McDaniel refused to concede, criticizing Cochran’s campaign for appealing to black and Democratic voters in order to win the primary and stay in office.

“There is something a bit unusual about a Republican primary that’s decided by liberal Democrats,” McDaniel said. “So much for principle.”

Cochran will now face former Democratic U.S. Rep. Travis Childers in November’s general election.

Meanwhile, in Oklahoma, U.S. Rep. James Lankford has captured the Republican nomination for the Sooner State’s open U.S. Senate seat, defeating former Oklahoma House Speaker T.W. Shannon.

Lankford took 57 percent of the vote, compared to 34 for Shannon, with five other Republican candidates trailing the front-runners.

Given Oklahoma’s pronounced Republican tendencies, Lankford will be the heavy favorite in November’s general election. The Democrats will decide an August 26 runoff between State Senator Connie Johnson from Oklahoma City and retired teacher Jim Rogers.

The Oklahoma seat opened up when U.S. Senator Tom Coburn announced he would retire at the end of this year due to health issues.

The race in Mississippi pitted Cochran and the state’s Republican establishment against Tea Party activists and outside conservative groups — such as the Senate Conservatives FundFreedomWorks and the Club for Growth — that strongly backed McDaniel.

Outside groups on both sides poured millions in advertising into the Magnolia State, clogging its relatively inexpensive airwaves.

After trailing McDaniel in the first round of voting, Cochran’s campaign began making appeals to Democratic and independent voters who did not vote in the GOP primary in the first round.

That is legal in Mississippi, as long as those voters didn’t already vote in the Democratic primary.

The results of the second round of voting showed how well that strategy worked. About 67,000 more people voted in the runoff than in the primary, and in Hinds County — which includes the predominantly black city of Jackson — Cochran’s margin of victory was 11,000 votes, nearly double what it was in the first round.

Cochran is one of five sitting Southern GOP senators targeted for defeat by outside conservative groups. So far, incumbents have survived primaries in Texas, Kentucky, South Carolina  and Mississippi, with one contest still to come in August in Tennessee.

Cochran’s victory is bad news for Democrats, who were rooting for a McDaniel victory to have an outside shot at capturing a Senate seat in deeply Republican Mississippi.

Childers was elected to the U.S. House from Mississippi in 2008 but lost his seat in the Republican wave of 2010. He got into the race when it appreared Cochran might lose, which could have given Democrats an opening against a more conservative candidate running statewide for the first time.

In the closing days of the race, Cochran and his allies told voters that nominating McDaniel, an outspoken radio talk show host, was too risky.

The GOP Senate primary in Oklahoma came down to a battle between two of the party’s fastest rising stars.

U.S. Rep. James Lankford

U.S. Rep. James Lankford

Lankford, 45, represents much of metro Oklahoma City in the House, In just his second term in Congress, he was elected head of the House Republican Policy Committee, the fifth highest position in the House GOP leadership.

That insider resume drew fire from some Tea Party and conservative groups who rallied around Shannon, 35, from Lawton, an African-American who is also an enrolled member of the Chickasaw Nation.

A one-time aide to former U.S. Rep. J.C. Watts, Shannon rocketed to prominence in state politics, becoming speaker just six years after being elected in 2006.

Mississippi GOP U.S. Senate primary headed for round two

U.S. Senator Thad Cochran and State Senator Chris McDaniel finished neck-and-neck, but neither won the majority needed to avoid a runoff

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

mississippi mugJACKSON, Mississippi (CFP) — Mississippi’s contentious and personal Republican U.S. Senate primary race will carry on for three more weeks, as neither U.S. Senator Thad Cochran nor State Senator Chris McDaniel won the majority needed to avoid a June 24 runoff.

McDaniel took 49.5  percent of the vote in the June 3 primary, compared to 49 percent for Cochran, with less than 1,400 votes separating them out of nearly 313,000 cast. A third candidate, Thomas Carey, took just 1.6 percent — enough to thrown the race into a runoff.

Whoever survives the runoff will former Democratic U.S. Rep. Travis Childers in November’s general election.

U.S. Senator Thad Cochran

U.S. Senator Thad Cochran

McDaniel drew support from Tea Party activists and outside anti-establishment groups such as the Senate Conservatives FundFreedomWorks and the Club for Growth, in his challenge to Cochran, 76, the second-longest serving Republican in the Senate.

Cochran is one of five sitting Southern GOP senators targeted for defeat by outside conservative groups, who were 0-for-2 headed into Mississippi. Incumbents easily survived primaries in Texas and Kentucky, with contests still to come in South Carolina and Tennessee.

The GOP primary result is good news for Democrats, who are rooting for a McDaniel victory to have an outside shot at capturing a Senate seat in deeply Republican Mississippi. Childers got into the race when it became apparent Cochran might lose, which would give Democrats an opening against the more conservative candidate running statewide for the first time.

Childers was elected to the U.S. House from Mississippi in 2008 but lost his seat in the Republican wave of 2010.

The GOP primary became nasty and personal and took a bizarre turn when Clayton Kelly, a conservative blogger and McDaniel supporter, was arrested for sneaking into a Madison nursing home to film Cochran’s bedridden wife, Rose, for a political video.

Three other people have been arrested on conspiracy charges in connection with the incident, including Mark Mayfield, the vice chairman of the Mississippi Tea Party.

McDaniel denounced Kelly’s behavior and denied any knowledge of the scheme. But that didn’t stop Cochran’s campaign from using Kelly’s photograph in a TV ad, identifying him as a McDaniel supporter charged with a felony and demanding that the challenger eschew “dirty politics.”

McDaniel called the Cochran ad “shameful.” But the Cochran campaign pointed to inconsistent statements given by McDaniel and his campaign about when they first became aware of the video of Cochran’s wife.

State Senator Chris McDaniel

State Senator Chris McDaniel

McDaniel, 41, from Ellisville, is serving his second term in the Mississippi Senate. He portrayed Cochran as a creature of the Washington establishment and attacked his conservative credentials, particularly his vote for last year’s compromise that reopened the federal government and funded Obamacare.

Cochran and groups allied with him, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, hit McDaniel’s work as a personal injury lawyer. They have also criticized statements he made that some of the money that flowed into Mississippi after Hurrtcane Katrina was wasted.

Cochran, the former chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, touted his seniority and his ability to get federal funds for Mississippi, particularly after Katrina devastated the state’s Gulf Coast in 2005.

Outside groups poured more than $8 million into attack ads in the Magnolia State, where media is relatively inexpensive. Those outside ads will likely continue through the runoff.

Democrat Travis Childers jumps into Mississippi U.S. Senate race

Childers, a former congressman, hopes to unseat Republican U.S. Senator Thad Cochran

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com

mississippi mugTUPELO, Mississippi (CFP) — U.S. Senator Thad Cochran’s quest for a seventh term faces a new complication with a potentially formidable Democrat, Travis Childers, entering the race even as Cochran is dealing with a primary challenge.

Former U.S. Rep. Travis Childers

Former U.S. Rep. Travis Childers

Childers, who represented northern Mississippi in the U.S. House from 2008 to 2011, said he’s running because Washington is “more partisan and dysfunctional than ever.”

“What I know is that the old ways of Washington aren’t working, and a new breed of partisanship isn’t the answer,” Childers, 55, said in statement announcing his candidacy on February 28.

“Mississippians know that I have a solid record of being an independent guy who will work across party lines and stand up to the powers that be when needed.”

When he ran for re-election to his U.S. House seat in 2010, Childers, who styles himself a Blue Dog Democrat, had the backing of the National Right to Life Committee and the National Rifle Association. But he still lost in the GOP wave to U.S. Rep. Alan Nunnalee.

Despite the Magnolia State’s pronounced Republican tilt, Childers gives the Democrats at least a fighting chance in the general election, particularly if Cochran doesn’t survive a primary challenge from State Senator Chris  McDaniel, a Tea Party favorite who is getting backing from national conservative groups.

McDaniel, 41, has been endorsed by both the Club for Growth and the Senate Conservatives Fund, which have been critical of Cochran for being, in their view, insufficiently conservative. Chief among Cochran’s sins: His vote in favor of the compromise legislation that restarted the government.

U.S. Senator Thad Cochran

U.S. Senator Thad Cochran

Cochran, 75, is the most senior Republican in the Senate and was a former chairman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee. Since winning election in 1978, he hasn’t faced serious opposition, winning re-election four times with more than 60 percent of the vote.

Cochran is one of five Southern Republican senators facing a Tea Party-inspired prmary challenges this year. Those other races are in Texas, South Carolina, Tennessee and Kentucy.

Party leaders have expressed concerns that if any of those Republicans fall, it could open those seats to Democrats and imperil GOP hopes of taking back the Senate this year.

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