By Bobby Harrison
Daily Journal Jackson Bureau
JACKSON – Chris McDaniel of Ellisville apparently has put off for at least another day a decision on whether to appeal a decision dismissing his legal challenge of the June 24 Republican primary runoff election where he lost to incumbent U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran.
Attorneys and others representing McDaniel had said the second-term state senator would decide first Tuesday and then Wednesday whether he would appeal to the Mississippi Supreme Court last week’s dismissal of his election challenge.
Throughout Wednesday the McDaniel campaign continued to say he would announce a decision on whether to appeal or to finally concede the June 24 election. But that announcement never came and Wednesday night McDaniel’s campaign was unavailable for comment.
Last week Chancellor Hollis McGehee of Lucedale, appointed to hear the statewide election challenge by Supreme Court ChiefJustice William Waller Jr., dismissed McDaniel’s lawsuit versus Cochran, saying he waited too long after the contest was over to file it.
McDaniel was defeated by Cochran in the June 24 runoff by 7,667 votes out of the 392,197 cast statewide.
McDaniel claims that his campaign has found about 15,000 questionable ballots statewide.
The Cochran campaign has long said that McDaniel’s legal challenge did not have merit and has urged him to drop the issue. The Cochran campaign has said any irregularities that occurred during the June 24 election were minor, the result of human error and did not impact the outcome.
McGehee on Friday granted a motion made by Cochran’s attorneys to dismiss the lawsuit, claiming current state law gives a candidate 20 days from the date of the election to file a challenge. McDaniel waited 41 days to file his challenge.
McGehee agreed with Jackson attorney Phil Abernethy, representing Cochran, that the 1959 state Supreme Court ruling – Kellum vs. Johnson – outlining the 20-day deadline made McDaniel’s challenge not timely.
McDaniel argued that the 20-day deadline was no longer the law. To bolster that argument, attorney Steve Thornton, representing McDaniel, pointed out that in 2003 current House Speaker Philip Gunn of Clinton took 34 days to file his challenge after initial returns showed him losing an election for a four-county state House seat.
On Friday, McGehee said from the bench where he was hearing another case that “Kellum vs. Johnson is still good law.” He said the Gunn lawsuit was silent on the 20-day issue, so it did not impact his ruling.
McGehee said his research had found no other instance in Mississippi of a legal challenge to a statewide election contest. Attorneys representing both Cochran and McDaniel have cited a legal challenge of a 1979 Southern District Transportation Commission election – which encompassed a third of the state.
Before granting the motion of Cochran’s attorneys to dismiss the lawsuit based on the issue of timeliness, McGehee had scheduled for the trial to begin on Sept. 16 and end on Oct. 6. It is not clear what would happen to that schedule should McDaniel appeal McGehee’s ruling to the Supreme Court and prevail.
The state Election Commission already has approved the ballot for the Nov. 4 general election with Cochran facing Democrat Travis Childers of Booneville.