By Bobby Harrison
Daily Journal Jackson Bureau
JACKSON – Chris McDaniel ended weeks of speculation Monday by announcing he had filed a challenge to the results of the June 24 Republican U.S. Senate runoff he lost to incumbent Thad Cochran.
McDaniel said he is asking for a public hearing before the state Republican Executive Committee to present evidence that will prove he, not the six-term Cochran, won the bruising primary election.
“The facts are on our side. The law is on our side,” said McDaniel, speaking at a news conference outside the Jackson office of his attorney, Mitch Tyner, attended by scores of excited supporters. The event was hit with a summer thunderstorm near its end.
“We look forward to our venue in front of the Republican Executive Committee. This is the opportunity for our party to take the lead on honest, good, transparent government,” McDaniel said.
The Cochran campaign has denied any wrongdoing and says it is focusing on the general election and Democratic challenger Travis Childers of Booneville.
The response from the Cochran campaign came from its attorney, Mark Garriga.
In a statement, Garriga, chief of staff to former Gov. Kirk Fordice, said, “Like other Mississippians, we have watched with interest as the McDaniel campaign has made repeated and baseless allegations of fraud and misconduct against not only members of the Cochran campaign staff, but also circuit clerks and volunteer poll workers around the state.
“The filing of this challenge marks the point where the matter moves from an arena of press conferences and rhetoric into a setting where nothing matters but admissable evidence and the rule of law,” Garriga said.
McDaniel, a Tea Party favorite and second-term state senator from Jones County, has been threatening a legal challenge almost from the time the election was called for Cochran on the night of June 24.
After receiving the most votes in the June 3 primary, but not a majority, McDaniel lost the runoff to Cochran by 7,667 votes out of the 392,197 cast.
Monday, the McDaniel campaign presented a lengthy report that it said documented more than 15,000 questionable ballots.
The McDaniel campaign has made numerous allegations, ranging from people who voted in the June 3 Democratic primary ineligibly voting in the Republican runoff, to vote-buying to racially charged attack ads directed at McDaniel.
McDaniel said the ads lured black voters, who normally vote Democratic, to the polls to vote against him.
Tyner said the McDaniel campaign found more than 3,500 examples of illegal crossover votes, 9,500 other questionable ballots and more than 3,200 improper absentee ballots.
The state Republican Party will have 10 days to act on the matter, though it does not have to. Whether it acts or not, the McDaniel campaign can file a challenge in circuit court in any county where it believes irregularities occurred. The chief justice of the state Supreme Court, at that time, would most likely appoint a special judge to hear the case.
But Tyner said he believes once the state party executive committee hears the evidence it will rule in McDaniel’s favor.
“Now, I say that very assuredly because that’s what the mathematics show. That’s not what I’m arguing,” Tyner said.
A spokesman for the Mississippi Republican Party said the party would have no immediate comment.
Tyner alleged not only the 15,000 questionable ballots, but also said the campaign did polling after the election that shows 71 percent of Democrats who voted in the June 24 runoff indicated they would not support the Republican nominee in the November general election. A vague state law which judges have ruled unenforceable says people who vote in a party primary should do so with the intent to support the nominee in the general election.
The McDaniel report included numerous affidavits from people who said they voted for Cochran but did not intend to support him in November.
Tyner proclaimed that when questionable ballots and Democrats who will not support the Republican nominee in the general election are removed from the equation, McDaniel won by 25,000 votes.
But the Cochran campaign disputed those claims.
Garriga said, “We look forward to holding the McDaniel campaign to the burden of proof that the law requires and 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.”
Garriga said Cochran won “an election which has been as thoroughly reviewed and examined as any in modern Mississippi history.”