By Bobby Harrison
Daily Journal Jackson Bureau
JACKSON – Thad Cochran’s U.S. Senate campaign, obviously frustrated with the refusal of challenger Chris McDaniel to concede and his accusation that Cochran “stole” the election, accused the McDaniel campaign of intentionally exaggerating the number of questionable votes from the June 24 runoff.
At a Wednesday news conference at Cochran campaign headquarters in Jackson, Austin Barbour, a senior campaign adviser, said the McDaniel campaign knows those numbers are exaggerated.
Barbour said, “They ran a great campaign. We applaud them for that.”
He also said the campaign supporters had the right to check the county poll books for irregularities and to challenge the outcome if they find reason to do so.
“However, the time has come for the McDaniel campaign to put up or shut up,” Barbour said. “…Quit talking about exaggerated numbers they know are not true.”
Cochran, a six-term incumbent, garnered about 6,700 more votes than McDaniel, or nearly 51 percent of the vote, but McDaniel, a state senator from Ellisville, has questioned the election results.
In recent days, questions primarily have centered on the possibility that some people who voted in the June 3 Democratic primary voted in the June 24 McDaniel-Cochran Republican runoff. That is prohibited by state law. Under state law people who voted in the June 3 Republican primary and those who did not vote at all were allowed to vote in the runoff election.
The McDaniel campaign is now claiming their examination of county poll books, which is continuing, has found about 4,900 questionable ballots, primarily instances of people voting Democratic on June 3 and then in the Republican runoff.
That’s the number Barbour said is exaggerated.
“The McDaniel campaign will say and do anything to win this race,” said Barbour, who conceded that statewide there were instances, less than 500, where people were mistakenly allowed to cross over and vote in the Republican runoff.
The McDaniel campaign sent out an email Wednesday asking for money to continue its quest of checking county poll books. The McDaniel email said, “Thanks to illegal voting from liberal Democrats, my opponent stole last week’s runoff election, but I’m not going down without a fight.”
Noel Fritsch, a spokesman for the McDaniel campaign, said the poll books still have not been examined in 31 counties and seemed confident the final number of questionable ballots would result in the outcome being in doubt.
The Cochran campaign has been trying to walk a tightrope as not to offend McDaniel supporters whom they might need when Cochran faces Democratic Travis Childers of Booneville in the November general election while still stressing that the outcome of the runoff election is not in doubt.
Barbour said Cochran and his campaign are now focusing on the November general election.
McDaniel can officially challenge the election results after Monday when the certified numbers from each county are given to the Secretary of State’s office by the state Republican Party.
Barbour continued to talk about the possibility of the campaign suing because of the claims of a conservative blogger quoting a Meridian man saying he was hired by the Cochran campaign to buy votes. Barbour said the man worked briefly for the campaign on get-out-the-vote grassroots efforts, not vote-buying, but he was quickly terminated because the campaign was not pleased with his efforts.
Fritsch said the Meridian vote-buying allegation is not the only charge of illegal activity by the Cochran campaign. He cited published reports in Hinds County of poll workers allegedly not being given the information needed to ensure people who voted in the Democratic primary on June 3 did not vote in the Republican runoff.
“The instances of criminal misconduct are piling up,” Fritsch said of the Cochran campaign. “We are confident we will see more before it is said and done.”
Also, Joe Nosef, chairman of the state Republican Party, said True the Vote, a conservative national group that looks for instances of vote fraud, had a misunderstanding of state law in filing a federal lawsuit in Oxford against the party and the Secretary of State’s office.
The lawsuit is demanding access to the poll books. Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann has said state law makes the polls books, which are controlled by local officials, public records. Neither he nor the state party controls the books.
Of the lawsuit, McDaniel said, “True the Vote is concerned with maintaining the integrity of Mississippi’s election process. The voters should be able to trust that the manner in which their elected officials are chosen is not compromised, and that the rule of law is adhered to. It is vital we be allowed to examine election data to make sure that happens.”